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Harvard Museum of Natural History Appoints Interim Executive Director & Launches National Search

The Harvard Museum of Natural History (HMNH) today (Feb. 17, 2011) named as interim executive director David W. Ellis. Ellis is the former president of Lafayette College and the Museum of Science, Boston. He will temporarily replace Elisabeth Werby, who is slated to become chief of staff to the president of Northeastern University. The museum will conduct a national search for a new, permanent executive director.

“Since Liz became executive director in 2005, the museum has enhanced its visibility both on and beyond the campus, partnering with faculty and students in a wide range of programmatic activities, while increasing annual attendance by nearly 30 percent to 180,000 visitors a year,” said James Hanken, chair of the HMNH Advisory Board. “Under her leadership, two historic galleries have been renovated; two new permanent exhibitions have been installed; and the museum has mounted seven temporary exhibitions — from specimen-rich presentations to displays of contemporary photography.”

“While we will surely miss Liz and will treasure the magnificent museum that she has left behind,” continued Hanken, who is also the Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology, curator in herpetology, and director of Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology, as well as a professor of biology in the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, “every leadership change represents an exciting opportunity to recruit a new leader who can build on the institution’s recent successes and strengths.”

In recounting Werby’s accomplishments, Hanken also noted that Harvard research is now routinely featured in adult lectures and family programs, and the museum has become a venue for collaborations with performers, artists, and poets. The museum’s offerings for students and teachers have been revitalized to incorporate best practices in informal science education and have leveraged the scientific expertise of faculty and graduate students from across campus, including researchers and students at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

As interim executive director, Ellis will bring a lifetime of experience leading museums and academic institutions. He served as the chief academic officer at the University of New Hampshire and then as president of Lafayette College in Easton, Pa., from 1978 to 1990. More recently, he served as president and director of the Museum of Science, Boston from 1990 to 2002 and, from 2009 to 2010, as interim president of the Boston Children’s Museum.

Ellis is a member and past president of The Museum Group, a collaborative of 30 former senior museum administrators. He also serves as a board member for a range of organizations including the American Association of Museums, the MIT Museum, and the University of New Hampshire Museum of Art. 

“I want to thank David for taking on this role,” concluded Hanken. “His deep experience in this field will enable him to keep the museum moving forward while we complete our search for a permanent executive director.”
 

 About the Harvard Museum of Natural History

With a mission to enhance public understanding and appreciation of the natural world and the human place in it, the Harvard Museum of Natural History draws on the University’s collections and research to present a historic and interdisciplinary exploration of science and nature. More than 180,000 visitors annually make it the University’s most-visited museum.

The Harvard Museum of Natural History is located at 26 Oxford Street on the University campus.


The press release is available for download in pdf format.