Dr. David J. Skorton is the 13th Secretary of the Smithsonian. He assumed his position July 1, 2015.
As Secretary, Skorton oversees 19 museums, 21 libraries, the National Zoo, numerous education and research centers, including the Smithsonian Astrophysics Observatory, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center and Smithsonian Science Education Center. He is responsible for an annual budget of $1.3 billion, 6,500 employees, 6,300 volunteers and 8,500 digital volunteers.
Under Skorton’s leadership, a new strategic plan has been developed with a focus on convening critical conversations about topics of vital public interest. An example of this was the first-of-its-kind Earth Optimism Summit on Earth Day weekend 2017, which brought together scientists, thought leaders, conservationists and students to share conservation and sustainability solutions that have worked and can work on a larger scale. The strategic plan also calls for increased outreach and attention to the relevance and impact of the Smithsonian’s activities.
Since Skorton took the helm two years ago, the Smithsonian has exceeded its national campaign goal of $1.5 billion; opened the National Museum of African American History and Culture, a must-see destination for Washington visitors; and elevated the arts to a priority along with scientific, historical and cultural research and programs. Educational efforts, both onsite and through digital technology, have accelerated since Skorton’s arrival. Skorton is the first physician to lead the Smithsonian.
Skorton, 67, a board-certified cardiologist, previously was the president of Cornell University, a position he held beginning in July 2006. He was also a professor in the Departments of Medicine and Pediatrics at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City and in Cornell’s Department of Biomedical Engineering at the College of Engineering. His research focus is congenital heart disease and cardiac imaging and image processing.
Under Skorton’s leadership, Cornell partnered with the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology to win an international competition to create a new type of graduate school, Cornell NYC Tech, under development on Roosevelt Island in New York City. Before becoming Cornell’s president, Skorton was president of the University of Iowa from 2003 to 2006 and a member of its faculty for 26 years.
An ardent and nationally recognized supporter of the arts and humanities, Skorton has called for a national dialogue to emphasize the importance of funding for these disciplines. He asserts that supporting the arts and humanities is a wise investment in the future of the country.
Skorton was a pioneer in applying computer analysis and processing techniques to cardiac imaging; he has published two major texts and numerous articles, reviews and book chapters on cardiac imaging and image processing.
Since 1980, he has been part of a cohort of physicians around the world who specialize in caring for adolescents and adults with congenital heart disease. At the University of Iowa, he co-founded the university’s Adolescent and Adult Congenital Heart Disease Clinic. He also helped found the Society for Adult Congenital Cardiac Disease, now the International Society for Adult Congenital Heart Disease.
Skorton was elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies (now the National Academy of Medicine) and is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. A national leader in research ethics, he was the charter president of the Association for the Accreditation of Human Research Protection Programs Inc., the first group organized specifically to accredit human research protection programs.
He has served on the boards and committees of many other national organizations, including the American College of Cardiology, the American Heart Association, the Association of American Universities, the Council on Competitiveness, the Business-Higher Education Forum and the Korea America Friendship Society. He is also a life member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Skorton is an avid amateur musician who plays the flute and saxophone. He worked as a musician in the Chicago area and cohosted “As Night Falls—Latin Jazz,” a weekly program on the University of Iowa’s public radio station.
He is currently a Distinguished Professor at Georgetown University. Skorton earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1970 and his M.D. in 1974, both from Northwestern University. He completed his medical residency and fellowship in cardiology at the University of California, Los Angeles in 1979.
He is married to Robin L. Davisson, The Andrew Dickson White Professor of Molecular Physiology at Cornell University. Davisson is also an Adjunct Professor of Medicine at Georgetown University.
Skorton succeeded Wayne Clough, who retired from the Smithsonian in December 2014. Albert Horvath, the Smithsonian’s Under Secretary for Finance and Administration and CFO, served as Acting Secretary for the six-month period between Clough’s departure and Skorton’s arrival.
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