Dr. David J. Skorton begins his tenure as Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution Wednesday, July 1. Skorton will be the 13th Secretary in the Smithsonian’s 169-year history.
“I am eager to begin working with the scholars, curators, educators and staff who have made the Smithsonian a world leader in science, the arts, the social sciences and the humanities,” Skorton said. “At any moment, the Smithsonian has researchers on every continent, exploring everything from the past and present state of our planet, to discovering new worlds at the edges of the galaxy. At the same time, scholars and curators bring a fresh understanding of worldwide cultures and the inspiration of the arts.”
Under his leadership, Skorton said, “The Smithsonian will continue to teach and delight educators, students and learners of all ages through its museums, affiliates and online presence.” The Smithsonian was founded on the principle that education empowers a person, and therefore, a nation, he explained, adding that with new technologies, anyone, anywhere in the world can access the Smithsonian’s vast learning resources.
“With its diverse collections and staff, the Smithsonian is uniquely positioned to lead a global dialogue on critical questions where the arts, humanities and sciences intersect,” Skorton said. “The Smithsonian can advance our understanding of the world around us through a distinctly American perspective.”
Before joining the Smithsonian, Skorton served as president of Cornell University for nine years. Educated as a cardiologist, his research focus is congenital heart disease and cardiac imaging and image processing. He is the first medical doctor to lead the Smithsonian. Before becoming Cornell University’s president, Skorton was president of the University of Iowa from 2003 to 2006 and a member of its faculty for 26 years.
He is married to Robin L. Davisson, The Andrew Dickson White Professor of Molecular Physiology at Cornell 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 succeeds Wayne Clough, who retired in December 2014. Albert Horvath, the Smithsonian’s Under Secretary for Finance and Administration and Chief Financial Officer, served as Acting Secretary for the first six months of this year.
The Smithsonian is the world’s largest museum and research complex, with 19 museums and galleries and the National Zoological Park. Its newest museum, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, located on the National Mall near the Washington Monument, will open in fall 2016.
The Smithsonian’s collections document the nation’s history and heritage and represent the world’s natural and cultural diversity. The total number of objects, works of art and specimens at the Smithsonian is estimated at nearly 138 million, including more than 127 million specimens and artifacts at the National Museum of Natural History.
There were approximately 28 million visits to the museums and National Zoo in 2014 and more than 99 million visitors to its websites.
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