William & Mary

W&M alumna becomes first woman to direct National Air and Space Museum

  • Ellen Stofan:
    Ellen Stofan:  The W&M alumna speaks at a 2016 NASA Earth Day event at Union Station in Washington, D.C.  Photo by NASA/Joel Kowsky
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Ellen Stofan ’83, D.Sc. ’16 has been named director of the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. The appointment will be effective April 30. A Smithsonian press release noted that Stofan will be the first woman to hold this position.

“Ellen’s scientific background, leadership skills, communication acumen and strategic thinking have positioned her superbly to lead the National Air and Space Museum,” said Smithsonian Secretary David Skorton in that release. “Her passion for science coupled with her love of education will ensure that the museum will continue to be a global treasure and world leader through its extensive programming, exhibitions and scholarship.”

At William & Mary Stofan majored in geology. She has remained connected with the university since her graduation. She currently serves on the For the Bold Campaign Steering Committee and she served for 10 years on the William & Mary Foundation Board including time as chair. Stofan also served as the university’s Charter Day speaker in 2016 and was a featured speaker at the Reves Center for International Studies' 25th anniversary celebration in 2014. She received the university's highest recognition for alumni - the Alumni Medallion - in February.

The William & Mary connections are a family affair. Her husband, Timothy Dunn ’83, also an alumnus as are their two children, Ryan ’10 and Emily ’14. Dunn served on the W&M Board of Visitors from 2008 to 2012. In 2016 the couple made a $6.3 million commitment to William & Mary’s For the Bold campaign to support faculty and student-initiated research in international studies. 

Stofan also holds master’s and doctoral degrees at Brown University, both in geological sciences. According to the press release her research has focused over the years on the geology of Venus, Mars, Saturn’s moon Titan and the Earth.

“It’s important to have women in leadership positions not just for their different perspectives and skill-sets, but for the inspiration,” Stofan told the Washington Post in an April 5 article. “I’m looking at the 8-year-old girl who may see herself (in me) … So many jobs of the future are tied to technology. It’s not just important, it’s a necessity to attract women to the field.”

Stofan is currently a consulting senior scientist at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. Prior to that she served as NASA’s Chief Scientist from 2013 to 2016. In that appointment she was the principal advisor to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on the agency's science programs and science-related strategic planning and investments. Her broader career includes more than 25 years of space-related experience. Prior to her time at NASA she served as the vice president of Proxemy Research in Maryland and an honorary professor at the University College London in England. Before that, she worked for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, acting in a number of senior scientist positions, including chief scientist for NASA’s New Millennium Program and deputy project scientist for the Magellan Mission to Venus.

She succeeds Gen. J.R. “Jack” Dailey as the John and Adrienne Mars Director of the Air and Space Museum. He retired in January.