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Leading in Central MA: Joe Cox, President of the EcoTarium

Monday, December 23, 2013


Joe Cox, President of Worcester's EcoTarium-- Leading Central Mass.

Joe Cox brings to the 188-year old EcoTarium, a unique blend of experience and passion in both environmental science and children’s enrichment. Most recently he served as founding executive director of the Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples, Florida. At Golisano, Joe was responsible for master planning, exhibit design and construction oversight. Under his leadership, the museum raised more than $26.5 million to open the 30,000 square foot building—the first of its kind in Southwest Florida. In its first five months, the museum welcomed over 100,000 visitors, surpassing all projections.

Previously, Joe served as nature center director for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, where he provided oversight of operations and management for the 14-acre nature center, including its award-winning environmental education programs.

Prior to that, he served as director of marketing for the Malta Ornithological Society (MOS). Founded in January 1962, MOS is the oldest environmental organization in Malta and is part of an international network dedicated to the efficient management of scientific bird ringing in Europe.

Joe is a graduate of St. Mary’s University, London, with a degree in environmental science, and he earned a master’s degree in museum studies from the University of Leicester. In addition, he completed a residency at the Getty Museum Leadership Institute and a fellowship in museum practice at the Smithsonian Institution.

A Conversation with Joe Cox

SW: Lets talk first about your career. How did your career begin and where?

JC: Perhaps the most pivotal experience was a random internship position. After a friend of mine had to pull out of a round-the-world (on a budget) trip to celebrate college graduation, I needed to find something to do. Fortunately, my Biology Professor persuaded me to head to Naples, Florida to take an internship at The Conservancy Nature Center and I found myself surrounded by mangroves, manatee and magnificent sunsets over the Gulf of Mexico. That position not only brought me to the United States but solidified a love for informal education, and working in a museum setting.

SW: What led you to your current career path?

JC: Following my time at the Nature Center I was part of an incredible team that spent eight thrilling years raising $25 million to design a spectacular new museum. The Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples was the brainchild of an incredible woman who turned the loss of her daughter into a museum where children and their families could play, learn and dream together. The community effort was amazing, and it was humbling as the Director to see families being inspired by the exhibits, the collections and the great team of volunteers and staff. Once the museum had opened, and was successful beyond our wildest expectations, I was ready for a new adventure - and was fortunate enough to be offered the position of President of the EcoTarium.

SW: Can you describe a day in your life?

JC: One of the joys of working at the EcoTarium is the incredible diversity - no two days are ever the same. Whether we are planning new exhibits or programs the visitor is always at the center of the conversation. Last summer we were packed to the rafters with visitors from all over New England and I overhead a young boy - perhaps seven years old - turn to a friend and say, “Dude, this place is like a playground for your mind!” I feel the same way. The EcoTarium is a playground for my mind - there are so many new opportunities to enhance this iconic Worcester institution that every day is mentally thrilling. We recently received a National Science Foundation grant – our second in the past 18 months - a significant achievement. This most recent grant will allow us to move forward on a fascinating new exhibit that will allow our visitors to explore a city in ways that they never thought possible. Each and every day I have the opportunity to work with our Trustees, staff, volunteers and supporters to inspire a passion for science and nature in each of our visitors. It’s truly invigorating!

SW: You are active in the community. What organizations are you involved with?

JC: For almost two hundred years the EcoTarium has been an integral part of life in Central Massachusetts. Since joining the team I’ve enjoyed serving on the Board of both the Worcester Cultural Coalition and Destination Worcester. Both of those Boards are made up of wonderfully collaborative professionals representing great organizations. Collaboration is truly one of the many things that makes Worcester special. The EcoTarium is teaming up with the Worcester Art Museum, Hanover Theater and the WOO Card program to provide all of our members with free WOO cards in 2014. Initiatives like that really do raise awareness of the multitude of cultural opportunities in our community.

SW: Who or what has had the greatest influence on your life?

JC: I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have wonderful, supportive parents who encouraged me to believe in myself and follow a career path that has brought me much happiness.

SW: Your favorite quote?

JC: In Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass” the Red Queen says to Alice, “Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast." I truly believe that in life you must have big, hairy, audacious goals. Believe in those things that might seem impossible and make them a reality.”

SW: What is the something that few p eo p le know about you?

JC: My immediate family currently lives on four continents - my Mum is in Europe, my Dad is in Africa, my brother in Asia and, of course, I’m here on North America.

SW: How do you spend your free time?

JC: I’ve really enjoyed getting to know my neighborhood. It’s great being able to walk to fantastic restaurants and shops, jog through parks, and become part of the community.

SW: What is your advice for helping the area to reach its full potential?

JC: I mentioned the collaborative spirit that is so pervasive in Worcester; that spirit carries through into all threads of city life from the dynamic educational facilities to the incredible generosity of our corporate supporters. The arts community brings a richness of culture to the mix that is exciting and pivotal to the ongoing growth of the area.

SW: Any special plans for your future?

JC: Having lived in New England for just over a year I feel as though I’ve barely scratched the surface of what is here to discover. I’m looking forward to exploring Worcester and beyond into Massachusetts and all of New England.


GoLocalWorcester presents Leading in Central MA, a weekly profile of an outstanding community or business leader. Join us every Monday for an inspiring look at the careers and lifestyles of Central Massachusetts’ most influential citizens.

Susan Wagner is the president of Susan Wagner PR. In this challenging economy, she has begun a new division to offer affordable start-up packages to new and emerging small businesses and non-profit organizations that include professional writing services, websites, collateral, marketing, social media, grassroots outreach and PR campaigns. If you have suggestions for a profile, please email [email protected].


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