Wanda is in the swim

May 16, 1991|By Patrice Martin

"The newsroom was my first love," says Wanda Draper, director of community affairs and visitor services for the National Aquarium in Baltimore. "It's what I always wanted to do."

At age 15 she entered the newsroom as a student reporter for the News American, where she worked until she graduated from the University of Maryland and accepted a job offer with The Baltimore Sun. There she did daily news, features, religion, even the court beat, for The Evening Sun.

The Evening Sun was home for Wanda for 10 years before she decided to call it quits and do something different.

"I left the newsroom because I became fascinated with management. I felt that the same way that I was capable of doing what someone said eight to 12 hours a day, I was capable of telling other people what to do eight to 12 hours a day.

"As I looked around, I didn't see much opportunity for blacks or women, or anyone outside of the old-boy network to really manage. There wasn't a lot of space for real decision-making, planning and implementing."

Ms. Draper was first given this opportunity upon leaving the newspaper when Gov. Harry Hughes appointed her director of public information for the Maryland State Department of Human Resources. She was responsible for all public relations activities of an 8,600-member department serving 250,000 clients and with a $710 million budget.

For the last four years, in the setting of the Inner Harbor's aquarium, she has managed community affairs, retail sales, catered events, security and admissions departments which oversee 1.6 million visitors a year and $8 million in revenue.

Her desire to manage has been fulfilled in this job. But managing an environment is only a part of being a good manager.

"I have an open-door policy. I walk around a lot to get a sense of how the operation is really going, and to find out how people really feel. I say 'Hi' to people when nothing is wrong. Seeing my employees grow and share ideas with me is important to me. I let them know from the beginning that we are all in this together. My goal is to motivate and build self-esteem, especially in the young people I hire."

There are many rewarding aspects to working at the aquarium for Ms. Draper, like going to other aquariums around the country.

"Aquarium operations are new; there aren't many around. We often get calls from curators for advice on setting up aquarium operations. It takes more than great exhibits. We must figure out more ways to make the exhibit more accessible to people, more ways to attract them, and educate and entertain them while they are here."

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