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Senior Staff Bios


Deborah Lahey, President and Chief Executive Officer

Deb Lahey

Just call her Mother Nature.

Deb is just as comfortable with a snake around her neck and she is with the responsibility of leading all operations and strategic initiatives to advance the Museum’s mission. She does some of her best thinking on her commute to work, which she often covers by bicycle.

She appreciates nothing more than championing the Museum’s effort to connect people to the wonder of nature and science that is so abundant in our urban area. Accessible, friendly, and down to earth, she particularly enjoys interacting with guests, helping shape unique exhibitions and studying the Collections of the Chicago Academy of Sciences.

Under her leadership, the Museum has established attendance records in the last 6 years, and is the sixth-most attended institution in the latest Museums in the Park rankings.

Deb brings more than 15 years of experience in diverse non-profit engagement, project managements, and all facets of design and planning. Previously, she held positions at CF Murphy, Perkins & Will, and Chicago’s renowned van Straaten Gallery. A respected civic leader, Deb has been actively involved in fundraising at a leadership level.

Deb is the Museums in the Park Chair, a St. Ignatius College Prep Trustee, Chicago Wilderness Protector, and serves on the Chicago Area High School for Agricultural Sciences Business Advisory Board. She is a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Alliance of Museums.

The daughter of a Chicago police officer, she is a life-long resident. She received a Bachelor of Fine Arts at The Chicago Academy of Fine Arts.

Favorite Nature Quote: "Necessity is the mistress and guardian of nature," (Leonardo da Vinci).

Best childhood memory of nature: Gardening with her father.

Marc Miller, Vice President, Chief Development and Marketing Officer

Marc Miller

In college, Marc studied biology. Although he did not become a scientist, he used his scientific training and analytical approach to help start-up companies define their strategy, brands and communication platforms. His diverse background includes serving as vice president of corporate marketing and communications for RCN; the chief operating officer of Home Preview Channel; and managing director for Branca Inc. 

Marc’s scientific and business backgrounds meld in his role at the Museum. Marc is responsible for strengthening the Museum's brand as the urban gateway to nature and science and oversees all external relations including development, marketing, communications and special events. 

Since Marc began in 2010, attendance has increased each year, the Museum has connected with a wide range of audiences and forged critical new partnerships. 

Always active in the community, Marc’s affiliations include: Immediate Past Chair and Director, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago; Elder and Trustee, Fourth Presbyterian Church; Board of Visitors, Wake Forest University; Emeriti Director, Chicago Chapter of UNICEF. Marc is also a member of the  Arts Club of Chicago, Marketing Executives Network and Chair of the Museums in the Park Public Affairs Committee.

Previously, he was a Director, Chicago Chapter of UNICEF (1988-2007); Trustee, McCormick Theological Seminary (1998-2007); Chair, Chicago Chapter of the Planning Forum (2001-2003); and the Illinois Regional Youth Planning Commission (1995-99).

A resident of Lincoln Park for more than two decades, Marc received his MBA degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a Bachelor's degree in biology from Wake Forest University. 

Favorite Way to Connect with Nature: Bicycling, spending time by the ocean. 

Like a Rock: To this day, Marc still maintains his prized childhood rock collection, which he started as a second grader when he visited, with his family, 6 national parks in the west during a month long car tour of the U.S.

Michelle Rabkin, Vice President of Education

Michelle Rabkin

Michelle traces her passion for nature to growing up in California’s Bay Area where she was, “outside all the time.” 

While being outside all the time is very different in Chicago, she has enjoyed living here for more than 15 years, experiencing four distinct seasons and the rich diversity of nature in and around the city. As the head of the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum’s education department, she oversees programming and resources that reach 65,000 school children, 2,000 educators and hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. 

She joined the Museum and the education department in 2010 as the Student Programs Coordinator where she taught and developed curriculum for field trip and offsite programs serving pre-K to 12th grade students. She was then promoted as  the department’s Associate Director of Education, where she oversaw programmatic decisions, led evaluation and curriculum efforts and fostered partnerships with other Museum departments and within the community.  

Michelle co-authored the chapter “Tree Squirrels: Narrators of Nature in Your Neighborhood” in the National Science Teachers Association publication Citizen Science: 15 Lessons that Bring Biology to Life with two of her Nature Museum colleagues. She also co-teaches an undergraduate course for DePaul University students: Environmental Education and Stewardship.

Michelle began her professional teaching career as a Chicago Public Schools teacher at Carrie Jacobs Bond Elementary School.

She graduated cum laude from Northwestern University with majors in English Literature and History and earned an Education Masters in Elementary Education from National Louis University. She is also a Certified Interpretive Guide through the National Association of Interpretation. 

Favorite Way to Connect with Nature: Hiking 

Sights, Sounds and…: “I love the smells of different outdoor environments during different seasons.”

Alvaro Ramos, Chief Curator of the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum & VP of Museum Experience

Alvaro Ramos

As a kid, Alvaro never tired of returning to the same Museum. Each visit was a chance to discover something new, something intriguing. 

As an adult, Alvaro was fascinated by the challenge of creating experiences and emotions that would resonate with Museum guests. 

He is responsible for curating the Museum’s first three self-produced exhibitions: Lawn Nation: The Art and Science of the American Lawn; Nature’s Architects; and Bikes! The Green Revolution. He also leads the team charged with enriching the Museum guest experience, which includes developing and managing all exhibitions and public programs. 

Alvaro is a member of the Chicago Artists Coalition, the National Association for Museum Exhibition, Chicago Museum Exhibitor Group and the American Alliance of Museums Curators Committee.

He received his Bachelor’s of Fine Arts from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. 

Favorite Nature Quote: “How do we love all the children, of all species, for all time?” (William McDonough). 

Favorite Way to Connect with Nature: “Through the eyes of the pets, dogs and cats that I’ve had over various periods of my life. Animals have a direct conduit to nature and can serve as our guides (literally sometimes) in experiencing the world. Spending time with critters is the best.” 

Why Curators are Like Chefs: “Watching someone walk through your exhibit is like watching someone taste food that you’ve cooked. You look at the expression on their face to see if they like it. Kids are the toughest critics.”

Doug Taron, PhD, Chief Curator of the Chicago Academy of Sciences

Doug Taron

It was love at first butterfly. 

To this day, Doug can recall in rich detail the butterfly collecting adventures he embarked on with his dad and sister in Massachusetts. He remembers eagerly anticipating the weekend outings and the adventure of discovering new species. 

The first part of Doug’s professional career was in the biotechnology industry, but weekends were still for butterflies and the natural world. He founded the Illinois Butterfly Monitoring Network in 1987, a volunteer organization that monitors the health of butterfly populations in nature preserves. Under his leadership, it has grown from seven to 150 sites and is a model for similar projects in other states. 

The opening of the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in 1999 provided Doug the opportunity to develop a research program around breeding locally imperiled butterflies for conservation purposes. He never looked back. 

Since then, Doug has been responsible for all living materials on the grounds at the Museum; he manages the internationally-renowned Judy Istock Butterfly Haven; oversees the management of the Academy’s Collection; and leads the Museum’s insect conservation biology research. 

Doug is Director of the Illinois Butterfly Monitoring Network and President and co-steward of Friends of Bluff Spring Fen. He is on the steering committees of the International Migratory Dragonfly Partnership and the North American Butterfly Monitoring Network and serves on the Mayor’s Committee for Nature and Wildlife in Chicago. He is a member of the Lepidopterists’ Society, The Sonoran Arthropod Studies Institute, The American Association of the Advancement of Science and the American Alliance of Museums.

Doug has a BA in Biology from Colby College in Waterville, Maine and a PhD from the Department of Biochemistry and Cell Biology from Northwestern University. 

Favorite Nature Quote: “The highest enjoyment of timelessness – in a landscape selected at random – is when I stand among rare butterflies and their food plants. This is ecstasy, and behind the ecstasy is something else, which is hard to explain. It is like a momentary vacuum into which rushes all that I love. A sense of oneness with sun and stone,” (From Speak, Memory, Vladimir Nabokov’s memoir).

Sharon Walton, Vice President, Director of Finance and Administration and Chief Financial Officer

Sharon Walton

Sharon jokes that it was destiny for her to follow in the spread sheets and calculations of her father (finance) and mother (math teacher). In fact, one of her earliest childhood memories is doing math problems on a felt board her mom made for her.

After more than a decade at Lane Industries, Inc. in Northbrook as a vice president of finance and a director of financial planning, she elected to move into the nonprofit field to give back and be part of an organization whose mission she was passionate about. Sharon, who joined the Nature Museum in 2012, is responsible for the Museum’s financial reporting and compliance, accounting functions and financial planning.

She serves on the Lake Forest Graduate School of Management Business Advisory Council and is a member of Financial Executives International, Illinois CPA Society and American Institute of CPAs.

Sharon studied accounting at Indiana University and graduated with highest distinction. Sharon, a Certified Public Accountant, earned a Masters of Business Administration from the Amos Tuck School at Dartmouth College. She serves on the board of the Lake Forest Graduate School of Management Business Advisory Council.

My Cat is Named … Twiglet (after a favorite British snack food).

At One with the Fish: Sharon is a master scuba diver.

On the Holidays: Sharon has been known to spend Halloween at the Indiana Dunes banding Saw-Whet owls (so cute) and birding for Snow owls at Montrose Beach. She finally saw one on Christmas Eve (what a present!)
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