Science Teachers and Ph.D. Graduates Receive Diplomas Under the Blue Whale

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On Monday, October 1, the Museum held the sixth commencement ceremony for its Richard Gilder Graduate School, celebrating the achievements of 6 Ph.D. graduates from the Comparative Biology program and 16 Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) graduates. Museum Chairman Lewis Bernard delivered opening remarks, as did President Ellen V. Futter.


Guests and honorees gather for a graduation ceremony under the Museum’s blue whale
The 2018 commencement ceremony took place October 1 under the iconic blue whale in the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life
© AMNH/M. Shanley

“The graduates, all of you, go forth in a time that urgently needs you—a time when some of society’s loudest voices devalue science and reason, denigrate diversity and even truth,” said Futter. “Natural history museums, especially in these times, are uniquely positioned as a critical lynchpin between science and society, a link that must be sustained, fortified, and long endure. What an important moment this is for all of you to begin your careers in science and education.”

The 2018 doctoral graduates—Daniel Barta, Allison Bronson, Anna Holden, Adolfo Lara, Spencer Galen, and Rachel Welt—had a wide range of research specializations, from paleontology to parasitology. Many conducted extensive studies in the field, whether searching for dinosaurs in the Gobi Desert, sampling for parasites on a historic expedition to Cuba, or finding iguanas in Madagascar. They are now among the 29 Ph.D. graduates of the Museum’s Richard Gilder Graduate School, which enrolled the first cohort of students in its Comparative Biology program—the first Ph.D.-granting program at a museum in the Western Hemisphere—10 years ago. Provost of Science Michael Novacek  and Richard Gilder Graduate School Dean John Flynn conferred the degrees.


Graduates, faculty, Museum administrators, and the honoree in academic regalia pose for a photo.
The 2018 graduating class of the Richard Gilder Graduate School at the American Museum of Natural History included six doctoral graduates and 16 Master of Arts in Teaching graduates.
© AMNH/D. Finnin

Graduating from the Museum’s MAT in Earth Science program were 16 of New York State’s newest science teachers: Elizabeth Backman, Adrian Baez-Alicea, Brittany Brown, Trevor Brown, Luc Charbonneau, Colleen Duda, Emmanuel Ekpu, Kristina Gustovich, Jillian McPherson, Michael Miller, Matthew Oxman, Lynette Pitcher, Lynsey Spaeth, Michael Supple, Darby Young, and Zixiang Zhang. Most of them are already working in high-needs schools, joining 78 graduates the Museum’s MAT program has produced since it began as a pilot in 2011. MAT Co-director Rosamond Kinzler and Curator George Harlow  conferred the degrees on members of the graduating class.


Marine biologist who received honorary degree stands at a podium to address graduates.
Dr. Jane Lubchenco, who was awarded an honorary degree, addressed graduates at the 2018 commencement ceremony.
© AMNH/R. Mickens

The Museum also honored Dr. Jane Lubchenco with the degree Doctor of Science honoris causa from the Richard Gilder Graduate School, in recognition of her extraordinary contributions to science, education, and society. Dr. Lubchenco, a marine biologist who served as Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) from 2009 to 2013 and who is a distinguished university professor at Oregon State University, has also confounded three organizations that train scientists to be better communicators and to engage more effectively with the public, policy makers, media and industry.

“Science is more important now that it has ever been in our world. It is more relevant, it’s more useful, and we need it to help address some very urgent local and global problems,” Dr. Lunchenco told the graduates. “We need you to be out there. We need you to be involved in the world. We have given you tools. Now it’s your turn to create new tools, share those tools, inspire your students, and take on the world.”