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Our Team

Conservation Nation is a dedicated team with decades of combined experience advancing the work of wildlife conservation here, in the field and around the globe. We are committed to changing the conservation career path from one of limited access to one of inclusion and growth.

Lynn Mento


How I got here: I ran Friends of the National Zoo as the first female leader in its 63-year history from 2015 until the separation from the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in 2021. Prior to FONZ, I led several groups at AARP, ran a marketing agency in DC, and started my career in advertising in New York City. In 2016, my team and I began Conservation Nation as an initiative to provide grants to Smithsonian conservation scientists working to save threatened wildlife around the globe. I’m thrilled we’ve evolved that initiative into our new Conservation Nation organization today.

Favorite animal: The cassowary, for sure.

Special passion for Conservation Nation’s mission: Beyond a desire to help endangered animals, my mom is my passion. She was the child of very poor Italian immigrants and spoke no English when she started school – but she loved math and was brilliant at it. In high school, she was one of a handful of students selected to take a test to go to MIT. But the other students selected were mostly sons of well off and well-educated parents. No one else looked like her or lived how she lived, so she didn’t show up for the test. No student should limit their academic options simply because they don’t see a role model who looks like them or walked a similar path.

Elise Bernardoni


How I got here: I’m an educator with over 20 years’ experience in formal and informal education. I spent the past 15 years at Friends of the National Zoo (FONZ) managing every type of education program imaginable, including camps, classes, overnights, birthday parties, field trips, and teen volunteers. I also served as the FONZ Conservation Grant administrator for four years, providing critical funding to Smithsonian zookeepers and scientists. I am an instructor for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) professional development courses Conservation Education: Effective Program Design and Managing for Success: Career Development. I’m excited to join Conservation Nation and help break down barriers within education and career paths so that individuals can achieve their personal and professional dreams as conservationists.

Favorite animal: Cuttlefish! I love cephalopods, and cuttlefish are without a doubt my favorite.

Special passion for Conservation Nation’s mission: My career path to conservation hasn’t been a straight line. I always loved animals and the outdoors. When deciding my career in high school I didn’t think that I fit into wildlife sciences, so I opted for a degree in the arts (equally challenging and fulfilling in different ways). I am passionate about increasing diversity, equity, inclusion, and access in conservation careers so that all conservationists can be seen, heard, welcomed, and feel safe within their chosen professions.

Mark Ibrahim


How I got here: I’m a web developer with over 15 years’ experience working as a freelancer and with non-profit organizations. I joined Friends of the National Zoo (FONZ) in 2014 where I developed and managed FONZ content on the National Zoo’s website, helped customize several CRMs and websites, and tried to make sense of the analytics. Although I enjoyed working on all projects at FONZ, my most rewarding time came when I had the opportunity to collaborate with the designers and marketing department to develop the Conservation Nation website. Focusing on conservationists and their work in the field has always been important to me.

Favorite animal: Terrapin. Go Terps!

Special passion for Conservation Nation’s mission: As a Washington, DC area native, I grew up loving nature and wildlife. I graduated from the University of Maryland with a Bachelor of Science in Zoology and, after a brief time in the for-profit world, spent a year as a FONZ volunteer at the Zoo’s Invertebrates Exhibit while conducting native bee research with the USGS at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. I’ve always enjoyed conservation science, but my career path veered, and I found myself back in school studying digital design. The new vision for Conservation Nation is one that I relate to, and I’m fortunate that I can apply my professional experience toward giving future conservationists the opportunities to help save wildlife.

Joanna Levi


How I got here: I am an HR professional with over 30 years’ experience in full cycle Human Resources. I’ve spent the past 14 years at Friends of the National Zoo (FONZ) managing Human Resources programs including recruiting, onboarding, training, employee rewards and relations. I served on the Diversity and Inclusion committee at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and spent many years at a prestigious law firm. I am an active member of SHRM.

Favorite animal: Cheetahs. Did you know Cheetahs chirp like a bird?!  

Special passion for Conservation Nation’s mission: As a Biology major, I always knew I wanted to work saving wildlife. Nature and conservation have been an interest of mine since I was a child when I volunteered at my veterinarian’s office and fed wildlife in my backyard. Because I know first-hand the challenges of exposing the youth to careers in wildlife, I am passionate about preparing young conservationists from underserved communities to the careers of their dreams. I’m excited to join Conservation Nation to continue my mission of introducing wildlife conservation to those who may otherwise not have the opportunity.

Don Lewis


How I got here: I spent 3 years as a Senior Finance Associate with FONZ. Prior to FONZ, I spent 7 years as a Financial Auditor, specialized in auditing nonprofit organizations. During my time as a Senior Finance Associate with FONZ, I helped facilitate and support the Conservation Nation initiative through effective and timely financial preparation and reporting.

Favorite animal: Cheetahs 

Special passion for Conservation Nation’s mission: The objective Conservation Nation has chosen to take on is a challenging one. Although I was not specifically focused on saving wildlife for most of my career, political and social movements over the years have kept me engaged on the topic. I always wondered how I could play a part in helping to secure the future of our planet for the sake of future generations. The success FONZ had over the past 3 years I have been with the organization has energized and fueled a passion for wildlife I never knew I had. I am looking forward to expanding my knowledge of the great work being done in the field, championing our cause, and supporting diversity within the field of wildlife conservation.

Debby Sayell


How I got here: I am an operations & IT professional with over 25 years’ experience in non-profit project and systems management, organizational strategy execution and technical implementation, and maintenance. I brought that experience to FONZ 7 years ago after a career that focused on health care administration, global non-profits like United Way Worldwide, and product design and fulfillment companies like Sales Service America. My intention, regardless of the role, is to ensure leadership’s vision and strategy is brought to life by supporting every member of my team with the best tools and systems available and ensuring the organization is well prepared to achieve its goals.

Favorite animal: I have always loved big cats, but my favorite by far are Tigers.

Special passion for Conservation Nation’s mission: To ensure that all big cats, a keystone species in ecosystems across the globe, have a planet that is safe and healthy for them not to just survive, but thrive.

Kathleen Sizemore


How I got here: As a Southern California native, I graduated from college and said, “I’m going to Disneyland.” I stayed for 11 years and worked in all operational areas while focusing on people and processes. Eventually, I pursued an MBA in International Business which led to adventures in technology, finance, retail, and higher education. I was fortunate to live in the UK and work all over the globe before settling in DC with my husband, son, and rescue dog. I wanted to take everything I learned about for-profit enterprise and apply it to a non-profit mission. Working for Friends of the National Zoo allowed me to follow my passion for both organizational development and wildlife conservation. I am sure that leading operations for Conservation Nation will be my best adventure, yet!

Favorite animal: Elephants. Simply majestic.

Special passion for Conservation Nation’s mission: As an entry-level professional, I volunteered with the Youth Motivation Task Force expecting that I would share the importance of a high school diploma with at-risk students. I did not expect that the students would teach me so much. I learned the importance of inspiration for young people and that representation matters more than I imagined. I love that we are working to engage youth and to ensure that all voices are heard—all towards the goal of saving endangered wildlife. I believe that my son’s generation can save the planet if all of his peers have the opportunity to contribute.

Jerri Taylor


How I got here:  Being raised with a horticulture and aquaculture background as a daughter of a Black tobacco and tilapia fish farmer, I have 15+ years of formal and informal education around agricultural practices. I am a Professional School Counselor with an extensive background in creating and implementing comprehensive school counseling programs and building strong community partnerships, which have resulted in career pathways tailored to marginalized communities. My expertise in building community partnerships afforded me the opportunity to supervise the clinical portion of the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) Title I Pilot Program for the Archdiocese School Network. Although my expertise is counseling, my interests include determinants of resiliency in youth, racial and ethnic disparities in education and mental health.

Favorite Animal: Lions are my favorite animals by far!

Special Passion For Conservation Nation’s Mission:  Working with endangered animals has always been my passion, with my love for animals being instilled in me at such a very young age. Being a descendent of one of the largest standing Black Farming Families, through the years I have witnessed the disparities first-hand when my father and aunt decided to take their agriculture business (Taylor Fish Farm) mainstream.  I want my legacy working in agriculture and conservation to show young women in marginalized communities that anything is possible; like a plant or an animal we must have the right environment to thrive.  

Susan Winslow


How I got here: I joined Friends of the National Zoo (FONZ) in 2017 after working as a Director of Creative Services and Marketing Manager for several national advertising agencies for almost 22 years. I had been volunteering for a decade with FONZ with a focus on helping visitors understand and appreciate cheetahs when the opportunity to connect my passion for animals with my career path aligned to be the perfect match! At FONZ, I helped manage the marketing and communications program, but my greatest joy was overseeing the Conservation Nation grant program and working with conservationists around the world to protect wildlife. I’m thrilled to now be expanding this mission.

Favorite animal: Has to be a cheetah! 

Special passion for Conservation Nation’s mission: I’ve always loved animals.  From volunteering with conservation organizations, to traveling around the world to see animals in their natural habitat, to helping raise money to save them, they have always had a special place in my heart.  I am alarmed by the dramatic decline of not only the cheetah but of so many other animals as they struggle to co-exist with humans. The only way we can reverse this saddening trend is to get more people involved.  I know that the more people we have in the fight, the better chance we have of saving animals from extinction. It doesn’t matter where we come from or how we get there, but all of us, in our unique way, can become wildlife champions.

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Senior Consultants

Lea Harvey

Tricia Riley

Krishna Roy

Our Development Partners

Lea Harvey

Tricia Reilly

Krishna Roy

Judy Braus