Holly Menninger named executive director of the University of Minnesota’s Bell Museum

November 8, 2023
Holly Menninger, executive director of the Bell Museum.

The College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS) at the University of Minnesota is pleased to announce Holly Menninger as the new executive director of the Bell Museum, effective January 3, 2024. Menninger had been serving as the Bell Museum’s interim executive director since April 2023.

Established by the Minnesota legislature in 1872 and held in trust by the University of Minnesota, the Bell Museum is our state’s official natural history museum and planetarium. For more than a century, the museum has preserved and interpreted our state’s rich natural history and served learners of all ages, and its scientific collections contain over one million specimens, representing every county in Minnesota and various locales around the globe.

Previously, Menninger was the Bell’s director of public engagement and science learning for five years. In this role, she provided leadership and direction for a new museum department during a period of transformational change. She supervised all aspects of the Bell’s interpretive efforts, including staff who developed and delivered authentic science learning experiences through exhibitions, planetarium shows, and on-site and virtual programs for youth, adult, and family audiences.

“Holly’s combination of leadership experience, accomplishments in previous roles, and demonstrated passion for our esteemed Bell Museum made her the ideal choice for this important position,” said Brian Buhr, CFANS dean. “She has skillfully led the operations and advancement of our world-class state natural history museum over the past seven months. Her strong background positions her perfectly to build on the Bell’s tradition of excellence and lead it with bold vision into the future.”

As the new executive director of the Bell, Menninger will continue to oversee the curation of a scientific research collection containing more than 1.2 million specimens, and the expansion of institutional efforts to engage diverse communities statewide. She will also continue to implement the Bell’s strategic plan and further the Bell’s science mission by supporting the work of scientific curators, collection managers, and graduate students to steward the museum’s collections.

“What an honor to be selected as the next leader of the Bell Museum — an extraordinary institution with incredible people and a long, distinguished history,” said Menninger. “I am excited to lead the Bell forward in its next chapter at a time when engagement with science and the natural world is so vital.”

Prior to joining the Bell Museum, Menninger served at North Carolina State University as the director of public science for the College of Sciences; and as an extension assistant professor for the Department of Biological Sciences. Before that, she was the director of public science for the Your Wild Life Program at NC State. Menninger earned her B.S. in biology from Denison University in Ohio, and her PhD in behavior, ecology, evolution and systematics from the University of Maryland. Earlier in her career, Menninger served as a senior extension associate and coordinator at the NY Invasive Species Research Institute at Cornell University; and as a senior public affairs associate at the American Institute of Biological Sciences in Washington, D.C.