First African-American CEO Leads Space Center Houston

HOUSTON, May 19, 2016 – The first African-American CEO to lead the science and space learning center Space Center Houston has exceptional opportunities ahead to guide the nonprofit during a time of significant growth.


“Space Center Houston is of incredible importance to America,” said William T. Harris, who also is president of the board of directors for the Manned Space Flight Education Foundation, which owns and operates the educationally focused nonprofit. “We have a great platform with the space program to engage people of all ages around science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) learning.”

Harris is only the third CEO for the nonprofit since it opened in 1992. Nationally, African-Americans comprise only 5 percent of all executive directors among nonprofits, according to a sample of the 3,067 executive directors who responded to the national “Daring to Lead 2011” survey produced in partnership by CompassPoint and the Meyer Foundation.

Under Harris’ leadership, the center is charting a course for the future with a focus on inspiring the future workforce to pursue careers in STEM. Space Center Houston is in the midst of developing a major exhibit to inform visitors about the challenges of deep space exploration and NASA’s priority of sending astronauts to Mars in the next 15 years. The new exhibit will be the centerpiece of a variety of new educational outreach programs. Another project under development is the 905 Innovation Lab. Designed as an educational “maker space” for both teachers and students using NASA content, the 905 Innovation Lab aims to develop students’ skills in critical thinking, problem-solving and innovation and offer professional development to teachers.

Harris brings extensive fundraising, strategy and communications experience and more than 30 years in nonprofit leadership roles. He previously was at the California Science Center Foundation as senior vice president of development and marketing. He oversaw all external affairs including capital campaigns, board relations, annual and membership programs, public funding, marketing and communications.

He was a leader on the team to bring the Space Shuttle Endeavour to the California Science Center, including its funding, promotion, transport, communications, marketing and exhibit opening.  He also directed a $165 million campaign creating a major new expansion called Ecosystems which nearly doubled the center’s exhibit space. It presented an unprecedented blend of live plants and animals, and hands-on science exhibits in 11 immersive environments. It also established the Science Center School, a neighborhood science-based elementary school serving 650 children.

Harris is a member of the board of directors for the American Alliance of Museums and co-chairs the Development Committee for the Association of Science-Technology Centers. He holds a bachelor of science in psychology from Tufts University in Medford, Mass. Harris earned certificates in development from The Fundraising Institute at Boston University School of Communications and in community health and the delivery of health services at Tufts.

Other prior leadership roles include the University of California, Los Angeles; the RAND/UCLA Center for Soviet Studies; the AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts in Boston; and the Boston University School of Medicine. He served in the U.S. Peace Corps in Paraguay and is fluent in Spanish.

Harris replaces Richard E. Allen Jr., who served as CEO for 24 years. During his tenure, the center garnered international media coverage and was called “The Big Draw” in Houston by USA Today. In the last two years, the center debuted a new membership program, obtained Smithsonian Affiliation, held its first gala and set a new annual attendance record in 2015. In January, the nonprofit opened the one-of-a-kind international landmark Independence Plaza, a complex featuring the shuttle carrier aircraft NASA 905 and shuttle replica Independence. Under Allen’s leadership, the center transformed operations and strengthened the financial long-term growth of the nonprofit organization.

This is the fourth senior management position hired in the past year as the center continues to draw exceptional leaders to join the growing nonprofit.

With approximately 400 employees and contractors, Space Center Houston is the No. 1 international attraction in the greater Houston area, annually generating a $73 million economic impact, 925 jobs and $36 million in personal income in the greater Houston area. Houston’s first and only Smithsonian Affiliate, it is the Official Visitor Center of NASA Johnson Space Center.

# # #

The Manned Space Flight Education Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit science and space learning center with extensive educational programs. Space Center Houston is the cornerstone of its mission to inspire all generations through the wonders of space exploration. The center draws nearly 1 million visitors annually, was called “The Big Draw” by USA Today and generates a $73 million annual economic impact in the greater Houston area. Space Center Houston is Houston’s first and only Smithsonian Affiliate and the Official Visitor Center of NASA Johnson Space Center. More than 100,000 teachers and students from around the world visit the center annually to take part in extraordinary learning opportunities. For more information, go to

SOURCE: Manned Space Flight Education Foundation

Download news release (pdf)

All Rights Reserved