The Harvard Museum of Natural History (HMNH) today (Feb. 17) 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.”

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.

“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.”