In August 1989, Ioana Vladescu immigrated from communist Romania to the United States with her parents at just 10 years old. When her parents applied to leave the country to get her father medical treatment abroad, the Romanian government declared her parents “traitors of the country,” confiscating all their property. But her parents persisted, and the family left for New Hampshire with just $400.
“To have $400 and going to a new land and new opportunity is pretty scary, but they were very determined,” Vladescu says.
Such determination runs in the family. Vladescu started college at 16, and during her freshman year, she landed a job as a production assistant at the NBC television station in Springfield, Massachusetts. After working at the station for several years, she moved to San Diego in 1998 to finish her undergraduate studies; she also worked at the city’s CBS affiliate, where she won an Emmy in 2003 for her coverage of wildfires.
An interest in nonprofits led Vladescu to switch careers in 2004, accepting a position as special events operations manager at Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego. Today, she serves as director of special events and group sales at the aquarium, leading a team that stages 200 events annually at the self-supporting organization that only began to host events 19 years ago.
Vladescu is understandably proud of what she has built at Scripps. She says, “Since 2004, I have worked really hard in building relationships with the community, from organizations to community leaders to corporate partners. [We] created a business where we now are over $1 million a year [in event revenue]. … My father used to say, ‘Be financially independent, and never depend on anyone.’ Working hard you will be recognized for. I think that motto always stuck with me.”
Currently, Vladescu is pursuing an MBA at the Rady School of Management at UC San Diego to further her personal goals and enhance her career—which includes passing her expertise along to the next generation of meeting planners. “Something close to my heart is [that] I love to mentor students at UC San Diego but also new leaders in the community. … The mentorship of the students and leaders results in independent, capable, young minds and managers. It’s been a win-win collaboration for me and for them.”