Andrea Rodgers grew up visiting some of Chicagoland’s nature gems – the Shedd Aquarium, Lincoln Park Zoo and the Brookfield Zoo. She didn’t know it then, but one day she would lead marketing and guest operations teams for some of her childhood’s favorite places.
After spending 12 years at the John G. Shedd Aquarium, this Sept. 1 she joins the Chicago Zoological Society, as the new senior vice president of guest experience and operations for the Brookfield Zoo.
“It’s an incredible time to be starting, especially when the zoo is in this important time in their master planning where they’re really envisioning what an exciting future of the zoo can look like,” Rodgers said.
In a phone interview with the Landmark, the Riverside resident said she is thrilled to join an institution aligned with her passion for animal conservation. In its master plan, zoo officials will determine its long-term commitments to science conservation and environmental education, as well as deeper investments in the care and welfare of the animals.
In Rodgers’ field, her passion translates into creating unique experiences for visitors to reconnect with the natural world.
“That’s really more urgent than ever in this age of increased urbanization when people are spending less and less time outdoors,” Rodgers said.
At the Shedd, she led efforts to promote environmental education experiences that help the public understand the importance of having a more resilient global ecosystem for people, animals, and nature.
This work was key to the recent release of the institution’s $500 million centennial commitment strategic plan.
As a mom raising a 9-year-old daughter who “will inherit this planet from the rest of us,” this mission is also personal. Rodgers sees an opportunity for the zoo to ensure that her daughter’s future includes thriving resilient, nature, animals and communities.
“Equitable access and personal connections to animals and nature has really never been more important,” she said.
Places like the Brookfield Zoo provide opportunities to advance environmental action as people are brought closer the challenges that species are facing, not only around the world, but in “our own backyards,” she said.
She knows this well. Her own experiences — summer camps at Chicago parks or time spent in nature and Arkansas, where she lived with her grandparents and sister — led her to this role. In the “Natural State” she also obtained her B.A. in journalism with an emphasis on public relations from Arkansas State University.
A day in Rodgers’ life is never the same. The Riverside resident and mom will start her day taking her daughter to school before heading to the Brookfield Zoo.
At the zoo, she will apply the knowledge garnered during her long tenure at the Shedd to create new visitor experiences that fuel learning and curiosity. She will engage with stakeholders and officials to understand their needs and desires.
She will create new advertising and marketing campaigns and find new ways to bring people closer to animals. She will also apply lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic to create more inclusive experiences for all guests and visitors of the Brookfield Zoo.
“There will probably only ever be one Wellington the penguin,” she said of the social media sensation at the Shedd, who rose to fame in the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. “But there are so many lessons learned coming out of the pandemic, about human resiliency, pure and simple joy that our organizations bring.”
In all, she said she is dedicated to bring Brookfield Zoo guest experiences that allow them to become champions for animals, starting at their community zoo.
“It’s really only when we care about something that we want to conserve it,” Rodgers said. “An investment in the Brookfield Zoo isn’t only an investment in nature and animals, it’s truly also an investment in our communities.”