Becky Dewitz recently became the CEO of the Great Plains Zoo and Delbridge Museum of Natural History. She and her husband, Neal, moved to Sioux Falls with their daughter, Drew (age 9), and son Ellis (age 7) from Minot, North Dakota. In Minot, Becky most recently served as Director of the Roosevelt Park Zoo. Her experience also includes serving as an education coordinator, development consultant, and leading strategic planning and large capital development projects. Becky is an Association of Zoos and Aquarium (AZA) inspector and proudly participates in the accreditation peer review process. She is a graduate of South Dakota State University.
Q: As a newcomer to Sioux Falls, what is your favorite thing about the city?
A: The Zoo! I also love the vibrance of the community, specifically recent improvements to downtown. Sioux Falls has grown so much since I lived in South Dakota and it is a beautiful city thriving with economic growth.
Q: How did you choose your profession?
A: Frankly, I did not go to college thinking this was my career path. When I first started at Roosevelt Park Zoo, I was their Education Coordinator. It was then that the "zoo bug" bit me in seeing the "aha" moment in a child's eye and sparking their appreciation for the natural world. I champion a quote from Baba Dioum, a philosopher, which states, "In the end we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught". I see this as the paramount mission of any AZA accredited zoo; to provide moments that inspire an intrinsic connection to these animals who need us to appreciate them and advocate for their conservation.
Q: What is your favorite animal and why?
A: This is a tough question as I love so many! At my former zoo if I were having a tough day, I would go visit the giraffes or grey wolves. The giraffes are gentle, graceful giants that inspire a sense of peacefulness. The grey wolves would remind me to have fun and play a little.
Q: What is a skill you would like to learn, and why?
A: The ability to play piano — I enjoy classic piano music.
Q: What is something you are optimistic about?
A: Today's youth — they are committed and inspired to bettering the natural world. They strive to live with environmental stewardship and sustainable practices.
Q: What are three words your family and friends use to describe you?
A: Happy, kind, caring
Q: What attracted you to your new position at the Great Plains Zoo?
A: It is a great zoo with an engaged board and passionate staff, which is critical for its future success. I am excited to further develop the zoo with projects such as the new African lion exhibit. Having just completed a lion exhibit at my former zoo, I am thrilled at the opportunity to develop another exhibit for these majestic cats. I greatly enjoy exhibit development and have a strong commitment to designing habitats that are species-specific to meet the whole needs of the animal but, also naturalistic and enriching for the animals which creates a dynamic visitor experience.
Q: What makes a great leader?
A: The ability to anchor an organization to its mission by inspiring and empowering everyone on the team to be the best they can be to better the organization. A good leader must be a good listener. They must be fair, ethical and honest. Great leaders set the tone and lead by example with personal accountability. Great leaders help fuel the passion and commitment of an organization to move the needle from good to great with goal setting, team building and clear communication. They recognize and appreciate the individual talents of their team.
Q: What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
A: Be grateful.
Q: If you could witness any event of the past, present or future, what would it be and why?
A: When Neil Armstrong took his first steps on the moon. America was united and enthusiastically committed to this mission. What an experience to witness the success of this mission which was driven by the American spirit of ingenuity, excellence and the drive to dare to do the impossible.