Swimming With the Sharks All in a Day's Work
Date: July 1, 2002
for Communication Major at Newport Aquarium
By: Marianne Kunnen-Jones
Phone: (513) 556-1826
Photos By: Colleen Kelley
Nearly every newbie graduating into their first job questions if they'll ever be able to survive the "shark-infested waters" of the work world. Genine Drozd, a UC communication major, has not only survived the first year of her chosen career - she's literally swimming with the sharks and helping to promote dozens of them.
Her job involves much more than the fish with scary teeth and voracious appetites. She's surrounded by squads of king penguins, thousands of marine animals, 600 species of aquatic life, 1 million gallons of fresh and salt water, 200 feet of underwater tunnels and 60 exhibits.
No, she's not a mermaid. In May 2001, the 21-year-old Drozd, still more than a year away from receiving her bachelor's degree at UC, received a job offer to serve as the public relations assistant of the Newport Aquarium in Northern Kentucky. Just four months later, Drozd got a second promotion to public relations director when her boss resigned to take another position. The UC undergraduate who had started as a lowly intern at the aquarium jumped at the chance to do something she loves.
"All of the women in my family are nurses, so it was pretty shocking when I didn't go into nursing. I really wanted to do something that used my natural talents. I've always been good at public speaking. But without school, I know these people (employers) probably wouldn't be looking at me," says the 1998 Lakota High School graduate.
As an intern, she had impressed her boss' superiors with her energy, enthusiasm and maturity. "I spotted her right away," said David Wechsler, executive vice president of Newport Aquarium and vice president for Steiner & Associates, the developer and manager of Newport on the Levee. "She's what we call in the corporate world 'a good catch.' She's really very unique. She's 10 years ahead of her time." Her previous public relations internships at Paramount Kings Island and Wordsworth Communications had well prepared her and brought her into contact with some great mentors, Wechsler said.
The same skills and on-the-job preparation spurred Wechsler to think of Drozd for a second assignment as well. In fall 2001, she accepted an additional post as the public relations director for Newport on the Levee, the new entertainment complex next to the aquarium. The large retail, movie, cabaret and restaurant megaplex opened in the fall, and Drozd continues to help as new tenants keep opening.
The PR spokeswoman in her explains, "The idea of this particular development is an entertainment district. We are not a shopping mall. We are a leisure time destination --kind of like the 'old town square' on steroids."
"There is never really a dull moment in my day," continues Drozd, who recently gained scuba certification. Last month, she tested a new underwater communication system by giving three media interviews as she swam alongside the sharks. Her only protection in the 380,000-gallon tank is a wet suit, plus the fact that its permanent inhabitants are well fed and closely watched.
"It's a little nerve wracking," she confesses. "These awesome creatures are right there, and you can say you're not afraid of them before you get in, but once you're in the water...it's different, especially when one of them readjusts their jaws right in front of your face."
Outside the shark tank, Drozd's job can also cause a continual flow of adrenaline. "There has never been a day that hasn't gone by that I haven't been excited. I am on an emotional roller coaster every day, and I love it," she insists.
Last August at the aquarium, Drozd hosted all the major TV stations from Cincinnati, Dayton, Louisville, Lexington and Columbus - all at the same time. She had staggered the interviews throughout the day with shark experts in the wake of attacks on swimmers. But all the news crews arrived at noon. "I set them all up in different locations in the tunnel, and the two experts just went from one to the other."
"I learned so much more than I ever thought I would know by having these jobs. I was thrown right into the mix. All my old bosses say they never really did think of me as an intern," she says. Because of her youth, however, Drozd does face a common reaction from some of her customers and the media. "Sometimes when people walk in here, their first impression is 'where's your boss, honey?' or 'Oh, are you the intern?' Then sometimes, they ask how old I am, and I say '4' - I try to play it off."
On top of her 60-70 hour work-weeks, Drozd has maintained her academic studies at UC, mostly in the evenings.
The undergraduate-turned-professional expresses appreciation for College of Arts and Sciences communication faculty member Lisa Newman, director of internships, for a lot of help and encouragement. "When I was up for the job at the levee, I talked to her a lot about it. She gave me a realistic outlook. She is realistic, but very encouraging."
Because Drozd must maintain accessibility to news reporters and producers who may need her at any moment, she often asks faculty for permission to step outside class if her cell phone starts to vibrate with an incoming call. Many professors have policies against cell phones in class, but once she shows them her business card, they're usually willing to accommodate her.
"It seems like all the producers for the 10 and 11 o'clock news always call between six to seven when I'm in class," she says.
"Had it not been for these jobs, I would have finished classes in December. But my career is my No. 1 priority. I've had absolutely no time to myself lately for me. That's OK for now. I can accept that for now," Drozd says. Instead, Drozd will finish her degree in August.
To meet other UC people, go to the profiles archive.