Report of the Chairman and President
This was a year of historic milestones, anniversaries, and firsts for the American Museum of Natural History. While the Museum continues to pursue its longstanding mission of scientific research and education, it also is working to find modern ways of fulfilling that mission—often in areas that are new for museums—and applying its resources and expertise to the needs and opportunities of our complex 21st century.
On September 30, 2013, the Museum held its first commencement, conferring Ph.D. degrees on seven extraordinary young scientists from the Richard Gilder Graduate School, and Master of Arts in Teaching degrees on 21 Kathryn W. Davis Teaching Fellows. These are the only museum-based degree-granting programs of their kind in the United States and exemplify the Museum’s growing leadership in postsecondary education. Dame Alison Richard, former vice chancellor of Cambridge University, was awarded an honorary degree in a joyous and historic ceremony.
Also that fall, a multidisciplinary team of Museum scientists traveling aboard the high-tech research vessel Alucia arrived at the Solomon Islands and embarked on the first expedition of the Museum’s major new research initiative, Explore21. Bringing innovative methodologies, approaches, and technologies to the Museum’s distinguished tradition of fieldwork, Explore21 embraces large-scale, multidisciplinary expeditions to locations of exceptional scientific interest, with an eye to pursuing some of the pressing scientific questions of our time related to the environment, human health, and other key issues, while fueling the Museum’s collecting activities.
Donations also contribute to the growth of the Museum’s collections. This year, the Division of Paleontology received the massive and significant Mapes Collection of Marine Fossils, donated by Ohio University, pushing the Museum’s collection over the 33-million-item mark, and further amplifying the Museum’s standing as the steward of one of the most important and valuable scientific records of life on Earth.
In a year of anniversaries, the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation celebrated its 20th, the Science and Nature Program for early childhood education commemorated its 15th, and Urban Advantage marked its 10th. The latter, a Museum-led collaboration among eight science-based cultural institutions and the New York City Department of Education, served more than 50,000 middle-school students in one-third of all New York City public schools this year. External evaluations show that Urban Advantage students outperform their peers, pointing to the potential impact of so-called “informal” educational institutions like the Museum in improving educational outcomes.
For those long past middle school, the Museum launched its first MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) in partnership with Coursera. Enrollment in MOOCs in Earth Science, Evolution, and Genetics exceeded 60,000 in the first year. Of course, many still come to the Museum in person every year—nearly 5 million in 2014. They come for our 45 permanent galleries and a strong program of special exhibitions, which this year included The Power of Poison and Pterosaurs: Flight in the Age of Dinosaurs. These exhibitions featured an array of media and exhibitry, from traditional specimens and video to virtual reality and live theater presentations, which combined to create a highly varied and effective educational experience. The Rose Center for Earth and Space premiered the dazzling new Space Show Dark Universe, on the mysterious and up-to-the-minute topic of dark matter, narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson, Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium.
These are just a few of the highlights of fiscal year 2014; many more are detailed throughout this report. Taken together, they underscore the Museum’s commitment to its underlying mission as it works to direct its resources and expertise to the vital task of helping to train the next generation of scientists, science teachers, and a scientifically literate populace—at a time when it is more important to our well-being than ever.
We could not do this work without the many individuals—led by our Trustees—Members, foundations, corporations, and government partners who support the Museum. We thank you for your interest and partnership, and hope you will continue with us on this wonderful and deeply rewarding journey of exploration and discovery.
Lewis W. Bernard