Report of the Chairman and President
The progress achieved by the American Museum of Natural History in fiscal year 2015 is perhaps best encapsulated by the commendation given by the National Science Board when it bestowed its prestigious Public Service Award on the Museum in 2015.
A federal agency devoted to the promotion and advancement of science, the NSB described the Museum’s work as “fostering public understanding of science through scientific research, improving the teaching and learning of science, and training and encouraging the next generation of scientists.”
This captures the dramatic evolution and impact of the Museum’s work this year as it continues to seek new, deeper, and more effective ways to fulfill its mission in a time when science and science education are more important than ever.
In September 2014, the Museum held its second Commencement, and conferred Ph.D. degrees on young scientists from the Richard Gilder Graduate School’s doctoral program in comparative biology and Regents Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) degrees on the second class of Kathryn W. Davis Graduate Teaching Fellows. Honorary degrees were bestowed on biologist and Honorary Trustee E. O. Wilson and Museum Trustee, business leader, and philanthropist Louis V. Gerstner.
The Museum’s MAT program was created to offer an innovative, inquiry-based approach to improving science education at a time when science literacy is critical to us as individuals and as a nation. The Museum’s program prepares teachers of Earth science—a field with a dearth of trained teachers—to bring science alive for students, while also meeting the challenges of working in under-resourced middle and high schools.
Near the end of this fiscal year, we received news that the Regents of the University of the State of New York voted unanimously to authorize the Museum to formalize its MAT program—which began as a pilot—under the auspices of our Richard Gilder Graduate School and to begin conferring its own Master of Arts in Teaching degrees.
As detailed throughout this report, Museum researchers remain extremely productive across a range of disciplines in biology, the physical sciences, and anthropology. Notably, the groundbreaking Explore21 initiative held its second major interdisciplinary expedition, to the highlands of Papua New Guinea where a team of vertebrate specialists searched for new species and studied the extraordinary biodiversity of one of the most remote regions on the planet.
Exhibitions, perhaps the most visible way the Museum educates, reflect the range of our scientific work and employ new media and technology to engage our visitors. Life at the Limits explored the astonishing diversity of creatures adapted to nearly uninhabitable environments. Nature’s Fury educated the public about the science behind natural disasters. A special exhibition on Lonesome George, the last Pinta Island tortoise and a powerful icon of conservation, highlighted the global imperative to protect habitat and species. Finally, Countdown to Zero, presented in collaboration with The Carter Center in Atlanta, discussed efforts to eradicate diseases, including the extraordinarily successful campaign against Guinea worm. The exhibition built on the Museum’s growing research in the evolution and ecology of disease, and we were especially honored to host President Jimmy Carter for a series of events surrounding the opening.
In addition to special exhibitions, 45 permanent galleries, and our Space Show and giant-screen films (both now presented in 3D), the Museum continues to offer an array of educational programs, to name just a few: the weekend Milstein Science Series for families; the Science Research Mentoring Program, an intensive year of mentored research for promising high school students; Urban Advantage, the Museum’s signature middle school science initiative now in one-third of New York City public middle schools and BridgeUp: STEM, which is teaching young people, and especially girls, how to code in the context of scientific research.
And of course, learning no longer happens just in the Museum’s galleries or classrooms. The Museum now streams public programs through amnh.org, produces many engaging videos including the “Shelf Life” series which explores the collections, and offers free Massive Open Online Courses in partnership with Coursera on such vital topics as evolution, genetics and society, Earth science, and climate change.
These initiatives are part of our comprehensive digital strategy to extend and deepen our relationships with visitors, through both their online and on site experiences. This year, we launched a major new ticketing and constituent relationship management system, which significantly modernizes and streamlines the ways that visitors interact with the Museum and its content.
Finally, and perhaps most excitingly, this was a period of extensive planning for a major capital addition to the Museum facility. The new Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation, while not officially launched until fiscal year 2016 and opening in 2020, will reveal and invite visitor participation in the Museum’s increasingly integrated work in science, education, and exhibition. This technologically advanced and exhilarating new facility will speak directly to the scientific challenges and educational imperatives of our time.
All of this reflects an active and dynamic institution; one that is devoted to studying the natural world, human cultures, and the universe, and fully committed to providing the public with a grounding in science that is essential to full participation in our century. Some of the many millions we touch will become scientists or science teachers; all of them—and all of us—can become more engaged, with a deeper understanding of how our interconnected world works, how we as humans fit, and how we can more responsibly and fully live with one another and our natural surroundings.
This is at the very heart of the Museum’s mission and we are so grateful for your interest and participation.
Lewis W. Bernard
Ellen V. Futter