Bridget Coughlin, just the fourth CEO in Shedd Aquarium’s history, wants to bring its wonders home to you.
Bridget Coughlin, who left the Denver Museum of Nature & Science to become the new CEO of Shedd Aquarium last month, will be the first to admit that her new place of employment is, well, more lively than her previous one. “Pachycephalosauruses,” she notes, “have not been alive for many millions of years.” Still, her pleasure in describing the smallish plant-eater (she calls it “the smiling dinosaur” for its slight underbite) makes it clear why the Shedd board chose her to become just the fourth leader in the institution’s 86-year history. “I haven’t worn a lab coat in a long time,” Coughlin says. “But what has been constant in my career is the communication of science—of making science incredibly accessible to the public.”
Coughlin has already announced one broad-reaching goal: to make Shedd a part of our daily thoughts. “To be relevant, the aquarium experience can’t be tied to a single address,” she says. “This place will always be the mother ship, as it should be—but how do we become embedded into people’s lives? It might be at the mall, on a mobile device, even at the supermarket.” If anyone has the versatile skills and passion to bring about such a development, it would be Coughlin. While she has a Ph.D. in biochemistry, she started out in college as a theater major with a scholarship—funding that she lost because she was choosing to spend too much time in the lab. She’s focused. The aquarium’s animals, she says, “are the soul of this place,” and “taking care of them is job one.”
In this, too, Coughlin expects our engagement. “When people pass the threshold of the Shedd, they are automatically deputized as a conservationist. As an aquatic biologist,” she says. “Everyone, degree or no degree, has an inner scientist. We have the privilege of bringing it out in them.”
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