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Burke Museum Welcomes Dr. Julie Stein

Burke Museum's Director, Dr. Julie Stein
Burke Museum's Director, Dr. Julie Stein

After a nationwide search for a new director, which drew many outstanding candidates, the Burke Museum found an exceptional new leader right here on the UW campus. Professor Julie K. Stein, divisional dean of research in the UW College of Arts and Sciences, assumed the director’s chair on September 12. Her move across campus will be a return "home," as Stein was curator of archaeology at the Burke from 1990 to 1999, when she accepted the six-year divisional dean appointment.

"I embraced the challenge to become a dean, and the perils and pleasures of administration, because I felt a need to give back to the University of Washington and to help make the institution a better place," Stein says. "Now I’m excited to return to the Burke and to work in such a wonderful place."

With the first phase of the museum expansion complete, Stein is eager to work with the staff to complete the second phase. "The Burke has an amazingly talented and dedicated staff, and with the help of our expanding circle of members and supporters, we can push ahead to fulfill the vision for this museum," Stein says.

She brings many assets to the museum: administrative acumen and experience, sterling credentials as a research scientist, a passion for teaching, and an eagerness to share the excitement of scientific discovery with the public.

That excitement has been the touchstone of her life. As a young girl she liked to dig in an empty lot and imagine making important discoveries. She studied geology in college and then became one of the first graduate students to train in the new interdisciplinary field of geoarchaeology, earning her masters and doctoral degrees at the University of Minnesota.

Then came the big challenge of securing an academic position in a new field. As she recalls it, one group of archaeologists "were willing to take a risk on something new and unproven" and invited her to join them in the UW Department of Anthropology, where she remains a faculty member and continued teaching while serving as dean. In 2005 she earned a Distinguished Teaching Award, the UW’s highest faculty honor.

An expert on shell middens, Stein has conducted extensive studies on the Coast Salish people who inhabited the San Juan Islands for 5,000 years. In addition to her scientific papers and books, she also wrote a book for a lay audience titled Exploring Coast Salish Prehistory: The Archaeology of the San Juan Islands (2000, University of Washington Press). After nearly 20 years of work in the San Juans, thousands of questions from the public prompted her to explain "what archaeologists actually do, why it is so difficult to piece together the past, and why archaeologists must use every clue, fact, and inference to accomplish it."

Stein also takes great delight in training new generations of geoarchaeologists, and students come from all over the country to study with her. She uses the Burke’s collections to introduce them to the thrill of discovery that sparked her own career.

For more information see Dr. Julie Stein's archaeology web site.