Coffee Break: Ellen Censky

Ellen Censky
President and chief executive officer
Milwaukee Public Museum
800 W. Wells St., Milwaukee
Industry: Nonprofit

Censky was named Milwaukee Public Museum’s president and chief executive officer in June, becoming the first female to serve in that role in its 137-year history.

She was formerly senior vice president and academic dean for MPM, until taking on the interim president and CEO position in September 2018.

Censky was born in Menomonee Falls, moved to New York as a young child, and at age 4 returned to Cedarburg, where she stayed through high school. She began her career at the Milwaukee Public Museum in 1977 while attending the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. “I knew I was going to do something in biology but I wasn’t sure what it was going to be. Then this whole world opened up, which was museums.”

She went on to work for the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, where she started out making study skins of birds and preserved amphibians and reptiles. She went on to hold leadership roles at the musuem.

While her background is in research, Censky enjoys the work of an administrator. “I love bringing together smart people and creating things. That’s pretty much what administration is – it’s providing the resources and bringing the right people together to create the next big experience.”

She returned to MPM in 2008 as its senior vice president and academic dean. “Everybody says ‘You can’t go home,’ but you actually can … I am somebody who likes to have a big purpose. When I step into a place, I don’t want to just maintain the status quo, I want to make sure we have something big moving forward. So it was exciting to return (to MPM).”

In her free time, she loves gardening. “I even like pulling weeds; it’s almost like my meditation.”

She takes her coffee black “and lots of it.”

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