Jennifer Grant Warner made a Jurassic World-themed chocolate cake for her son’s eighth birthday. Nestling a velociraptor figurine into a layer of icing is easy enough, but Warner knows more about dinosaurs than most moms. She serves as president and CEO of Atlanta’s Fernbank Museum of Natural History and, appropriately, strolls through Dinosaur Plaza on the way to her office.
While serving as the museum’s chief programming officer, Warner decided to pursue a Flexible MBA from Georgia State University’s Robinson College of Business. Soon after graduation in 2007, Warner spearheaded the design and fundraising efforts for NatureQuest, Fernbank’s children’s exhibition that has received international recognition. Although “Do Not Touch” signs pepper many museum displays, NatureQuest encourages children to climb the rock wall, check out the live baby alligators and terrapin turtles, and wade through the “river” that is projected on the floor and “ripples” when traipsed upon.
“The critical thinking, planning and analytical skills I refined at Robinson helped me do a better job with that project. It increased our membership and put us on the map,” Warner says. “The MBA contributed to my career trajectory, and I’m thankful for that.” (She became CEO in June 2017.)
Warner specifically recalls Pam Ellen’s Market Research course, especially its analytics component. As part of the class, Warner studied how weather patterns and traffic flows impact museum attendance. Warner also regularly refers back to her Negotiation course when navigating group dynamics, settling contracts and weighing all the perspectives that need to be heard while implementing new exhibitions. Her Negotiation classmates mirrored a real-world office environment.
“I came from a nonprofit setting and collaborated on group projects with folks from Georgia-Pacific and Turner Broadcasting. We were a cast of characters with a blend of personalities, expertise and backgrounds,” Warner explains. “During Fernbank’s recent outdoor expansion, I again encountered a cross section of people coming from different angles like facilities and marketing, and I employed the strategies I picked up in that class.”
Although Fernbank’s attractions center around topics like fossils, Native American pottery and ancient cultures, Warner constantly brainstorms ideas for keeping the museum’s offerings relevant and fresh. She currently is overseeing a STEM exhibition that hopefully will get young patrons excited about science.
“Eighty-five percent of scientists credit a museum experience with inspiring them to pursue their career,” Warner says. “We play a role in the education ecosystem for these kids and this community.”
If anyone develops an interest in science because of Fernbank, Warner’s two sons are likely candidates. They’ll be able to trace it back to practically growing up in Fernbank Forest, the 65 acres of old-growth woods their mother is responsible for opening to the public. That or eating a delicious piece of Jurassic World chocolate cake.