Museum Celebrates Second Commencement Ceremony

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Congratulations, graduates! Yesterday, Museum President Ellen V. Futter welcomed participants to “the only commencement ceremony in the whole wide world that takes place underneath a giant blue whale”—the second-ever such ceremony for graduates from the pioneering Richard Gilder Graduate School’s Ph.D. program, the first for any museum in the Western Hemisphere, and the Master of Arts in Teaching program, the country’s first museum-based standalone master’s degree program to prepare science teachers. 

Graduation 2014
Students, faculty, and families gathered under the blue whale in the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life for the 2014 commencement ceremony.

Michael J. Novacek, senior vice president and provost of science, and John J. Flynn, dean of the Richard Gilder Graduate School, awarded the Ph. D. degree in comparative biology to Alejandro Grajales, Ansel Payne, Pedro Peloso, and Dawn Roje. (Follow links to graduates’ profiles.)

New York State Education Commissioner John B. King, Jr., joined by New York State Board Of Regents Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch, conferred the Master of Arts in Teaching on 16 graduates who are already teaching Earth science to 7th–12th graders in high-needs schools. (See more about the 2014 MAT graduates here.)

John B. King Jr.
New York State Education Commissioner John B. King, Jr. delivered remarks at the 2014 commencement ceremony.

“The regents understood that the Museum was uniquely positioned to create a program for teachers who not only know their content deeply but can help make that content accessible to their students,” said King in his remarks. “They also understood that the Museum had a particular commitment to making sure that the wonderful resources here are available to the highest-need students in New York City.”

The Museum was recently awarded a five-year, $5.3 million grant for its MAT program, part of the Obama Administration’s Teacher Quality Partnership initiative to improve the quality of new teachers through partnerships among institutions of higher education and high-needs schools to recruit, train, and support new teachers, particularly in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math. The American Museum of Natural History is the only museum to receive this grant.

Honorary degrees were also conferred on Louis V. Gerstner, Jr., vice chairman of the Museum and retired IBM chairman and chief executive officer, and Edward O. Wilson, research professor emeritus at Harvard University.

Gerstner, who is also a member of the National Academy of Engineering and, as a Trustee of the Museum, chair of the Museum’s Science Policy Committee, and Dr. Wilson, a member of the National Academy of Science and other distinguished societies and an honorary Trustee, each received the degree Doctor of Science, honoris causa, in recognition of their extraordinary contributions to science, education and society. 

Louis V. Gerstner, Jr.
Louis V. Gerstner, Jr. received the degree Doctor of Science, honoris causa, at the October 27, 2014 commencement ceremony.

I am honored and pleased to accept this award on behalf of and in recognition of the great scientific community of this place,” said Gerstner. “Growing up on Long Island, the most special event my parents would organize for my brothers and me was a trip to the Museum of Natural History in New York City—it was a place for us of wonderment, of incredible intellectual exploration.”

Dr. E.O. Wilson
Dr. E.O. Wilson, who received an honorary degree at the October 27 commencement, spoke about the importance of scientific research.
©AMNH/R. Mickens 

Dr. Wilson alluded to the critically important work ahead for the newly minted Ph.D.’s. “Humanity is in a race between studying the natural world versus witnessing it disappearing while still mostly unknown,” he said. “The scientific naturalists, the systemicists, the evolutionary biologists are out to learn everything about the biology of the group they’ve chosen. Everything! Naturalists are thereby the ones who make the most surprising discoveries.”