Dr. Gabriela Chavarria joins the Burke Museum as its new Executive Director

Photo: Mike Lockhart.
Photo: Mike Lockhart.
March 3, 2022 | Andrea Godinez

As of March 1, 2022, Dr. Gabriela Chavarria is the new Executive Director of the Burke Museum. Dr. Chavarria brings more than 20 years of experience in managing teams of gifted professionals and innovative science programs, influencing policy, developing new scientific collections, and leading scientists in research efforts both nationally and internationally. 


Prior to her new position at the Burke, Dr. Chavarria was the vice president and chief curator of the Science Division at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, overseeing scientific collections, research, and leading a team of 44 full-time staff members, along with additional staff, interns, and 400 volunteers. Before her work at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, she was senior science advisor and forensic science branch chief at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife National Forensics Laboratory in Ashland, Oregon. 

“What excites me the most about joining the Burke Museum is that I’m coming to an institution that has created a totally new way to showcase collections,” Dr. Chavarria said. “There’s no other museum in the world that wants to show the public the work behind the scenes to the extent that the Burke does.”


The oldest of five children, Dr. Chavarria grew up in Mexico City and developed a passion for nature and science at an early age, especially for bees. She received her bachelor’s degree in biology from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), and her master’s and Ph.D. in organismic and evolutionary biology from Harvard University, where she studied under two-time Pulitzer Prize recipient Edward O. Wilson. She has devoted her career to the conservation of native pollinators—especially bumble bees. 

Another species that brought Dr. Chavarria into the conservation world was the black-footed ferret, during her work with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. She oversaw the building of a breeding facility for the black-footed ferret in collaboration with experts, including Defenders of Wildlife. To date, hundreds of ferrets have passed through the facility on their way to the wild. 

Dr. Chavarria also serves on several boards and advisory councils, including the American Institute of Biological Sciences, the National Parks Conservation Association, Defenders of Wildlife, The Nature Conservancy of Colorado, and the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars at the University of California, Santa Cruz. In addition, Dr. Chavarria was recently named a 2021 American Association for the Advancement of Science Fellow for her work in research administration, the intersection of science and policy, and science advocacy. 

Looking ahead to the future of the Burke Museum, Dr. Chavarria is prioritizing expanding the museum’s Inside-Out approach and outreach to the community by: Digitizing collections so anyone can access and learn from them across the globe; working with the public outside the museum’s walls; and bringing more people into the Burke’s visible workrooms and labs. “In a world where we’re trying to be more inclusive and diverse, more equitable, the Burke has much room to grow, incorporating new ideas and thoughts,” Dr. Chavarria said. “As we all emerge from the pandemic, I look forward to all of us reconnecting after the two years we’ve been at home and have the Burke be a safe place for the community to gather to learn, spend time with our families, experiment, test new concepts, and more.”

As part of reconnecting and meeting the community, Dr. Chavarria plans to join in the Inside-Out nature of the Burke by sharing her own research and work with the public on weekends in the upcoming weeks. “Spring is about to come and I look forward to sharing my work through the years about native pollinators and the importance of bees and landscapes,” Dr. Chavarria said. “There are 650 species of native bees in Washington state and are animals people can see in their garden in the upcoming season.”

Dr. Chavarria’s appointment follows the retirement of previous executive director Dr. Julie Stein

For reporters requesting high resolution images and interviews, please contact burkepr@uw.edu

Portions of this press release were paraphrased with permission from a Defenders of Wildlife blog article.