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Museum’s new leader hails Buffalo as ‘science city’

The Buffalo Museum of Science’s new president and CEO sees Buffalo as a good fit for what the institution has to offer.

“Buffalo is a science city, and for more than 150 years, the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences has been an advocate, a voice, an educator and a convener for this glorious work,” Marisa L. Wigglesworth said. “I commit to continuing the celebration of science, and working to make it accessible for all.”

The museum has an important role in science, technology, engineering and math education, Wigglesworth said.

“It was so impressive to me that this city, with its storied history, is in the midst of this incredible renaissance again fueled by STEM industries – medicine, biotechnology, alternative energy solutions,” she said.

Wigglesworth – whose first name is pronounced Mah-REE’-suh – comes to Buffalo from the National Aquarium in Baltimore, where she was senior vice president and chief philanthropy officer. She succeeds Mark D. Mortenson, who was at the helm for eight years. Karen Wallace, Mortenson’s deputy director, filled the position on an interim basis for the last seven months.

“I am thrilled to be in Buffalo, and I am thrilled to be at the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences,” Wigglesworth said.

The organization, founded in 1861, operates the museum and Tifft Nature Preserve.

“This role sits at the intersection of a number of issues highly meaningful to me – providing opportunities for all of Buffalo’s young people, promoting museums and their power to build community and promoting science and STEM learning.”

Chris Hogan, chairman of the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences, expressed excitement about the hiring of Wigglesworth.

“We are thrilled to have Marisa leading our programs and are confident her guidance will accelerate the Museum of Science and Tifft Nature Preserve’s rapid growth and improvement in the next decade,” he said.

Wigglesworth, who was at the National Aquarium for two years, comes to her new job after a period of significant change at the Buffalo Museum of Science.

Since 2011, seven spaces have been transformed into interactive science studios that highlight the museum’s collections.

The museum’s capital campaign, now in the public phase, has raised close to its $7.2 million fundraising goal. The museum opened in 1929 in the Parade, later renamed Martin Luther King Jr. Park.

Spaces at Tifft Nature Preserve, also operated by the museum, have been enlarged to serve the demand for educational services.

Immediate museum projects include finishing the final science studio, reopening the observatory and restoring the front staircase.

Wigglesworth, who thanked her predecessor and senior staff during her remarks, said she was “inspired” by the changes occurring in Buffalo, which further attracted her to the job.

“This renaissance that the city is enjoying is really exciting, and the momentum it is bringing for its cultural institutions and for its residents was just incredibly appealing,” she said.

Wigglesworth, a native of southern New Jersey who grew up in Philadelphia, has a master’s degree in recreation service and resource management from New York University and a bachelor’s degree in English and communications from Rutgers.

Wigglesworth was previously vice president of development and external affairs at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, where she supervised fundraising and corporate communications and oversaw a $65 million capital campaign that exceeded its goal. She has also worked as chief development officer for Big Brothers Big Sisters International and was vice president of development for Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania.

“We’re standing on the precipice of the next step,” said David M. Cinquino, director of exhibits. “We needed somebody who would have that vision to take us to what Mark helped us transform the building into. Marisa said all the right things about working with the community and trying to get education to be a main part of what we’re doing in the community, and not just at the facility.”

Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, was one of several politicians who extended a warm welcome to Wigglesworth on Monday at the museum.

“We welcome you, and you’re going to fall in love with this place,” Higgins said. “They often say Buffalo is a hard place to recruit people to, but it’s an impossible place to recruit people from.”

Assemblywoman Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes, D-Buffalo, said she was glad that Wigglesworth was selected – both for her “experience and knowledge,” and because she’s another woman joining the ranks of Buffalo’s leaders.

That view was shared by Donna M. Fernandes, president and CEO of the Buffalo Zoo.

“I’m very excited. She seems wonderful,” Fernandes said. “Now, we’re about 50-50 women leaders,” Fernandes said of cultural organization leaders, ticking off the names of Melissa N. Brown, executive director of the Buffalo History Museum; Mary F. Roberts, executive director of the Darwin Martin House Complex; Stephanie L. Crockatt, executive director of the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy; and herself.

“Given the population of women in the United States,” Fernandes said, “we should be at 50 percent, so that’s great to see.”