Judy Gradwohl joined The Nat in July 2016 as the organization’s first woman president and CEO, following more than 30 years at the Smithsonian Institution. She brought a passion for and wide range of experience in natural history research, science communication, and museum management.
Under her leadership, the Museum developed a new strategic plan that focuses on regional science, collections, education, and conservation (highlights of this plan are available in our Strategy Roadmap). A new master plan for the building emphasizes energy conservation, maximizing visitor experiences, safeguarding collections, and improving working conditions for staff and volunteers.
Some of the most notable strategic shifts under Judy’s leadership include transitioning from traveling to in-house exhibitions, developing an internal venture fund to encourage experimental thinking, bolstering awareness of the museum’s important conservation work, and—amidst the backdrop of a global pandemic—rethinking the museum’s programming as a new blended model of onsite, online, and nature-based activities.
A native Southern Californian, Judy received her B.A. and M.A. in Zoology from the University of California at Berkeley, where she also gained her first museum experience: developing and teaching classes at Lawrence Hall of Science, and dusting the case tops at the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology. Interest in tropical bird behavior took her to the Smithsonian’s Barro Colorado Island in Panama and other parts of Central America and the Caribbean, where she conducted research for many years.
At the Smithsonian in Washington D.C., she produced science communication at the National Zoo, established the first substantial environmental program, and curated two major traveling exhibitions on tropical forest and ocean conservation. Judy led the team that developed the Smithsonian’s first web site and developed early collections-based narrative websites. Her last position was as MacMillan Associate Director for Education and Public Programs at the National Museum of American History, where she was instrumental in reopening the Museum after an extended construction closure, and was the driving force behind a cluster of new education, performance and exhibition spaces.
She has published scientific and popular books and articles on animal behavior and ecology, conservation, and museum practice. Her favorite days at work are when she is in the field.