NEW YORK—The American Museum of Natural History held its second graduating ceremony on Monday, awarding four Doctorates and 16 Master’s degrees as a part of its landmark program for aspiring natural scientists and teachers.
The museum’s Richard Gilder Graduate School Ph.D program in Comparative Biology and its Master of Arts in Teaching program are the first of its kind in an American museum.
“One need only look at the Ebola epidemic or the potentially devastating implications of a warming climate to our environment and the accelerating loss of biodiversity, or the increasing recurrence of natural disasters,” Ellen Futter, the museum’s president, said at the ceremony, which was held in Milstein Hall, where a life-size replica of a blue whale hung from the ceiling.
“We live in times that are in desperate need of scientists to help address those and so many other science-based challenges, and we need science teachers to inspire both the next generation of scientists and a scientifically literate public.”
The teaching program was created in 2012 to train much-needed science teachers for New York’s public schools. Participants paid no tuition and were given a $30,000 annual stipend, and agreed to teach at a high-needs public school for at least four years upon graduation. Most of 2014’s graduates were assigned to high schools in New York City.
At the ceremony, celebrated biologist E.O. Wilson was presented with an honorary degree from the museum. In his acceptance speech, Wilson exhorted the crowd on the continued need for natural scientists to document all of the world’s species—before they disappear.
“Humanity, whether they know it or not, is in a race in studying the natural world versus witnessing it disappear while still mostly unknown,” Wilson said. “How can the exploration of biodiversity be completed before most of it vanishes?”
Wilson is best known for founding the discipline of sociobiology—”the systematic study of the biological basis of social behavior in all kinds of organisms,” according to the E.O. Wilson Foundation. His theories were founded upon his research on ant colonies in New Guinea and the Pacific Islands in the 1950s.
“We need a great deal more experts on particular groups of organisms,” Wilson said, praising those experts as “biology’s true historians.”
Those historians were exactly what the museum’s graduate program has sought to produce. Alejandro Grajales, one graduate of the Ph.D program, researched the molecular and genetic systems of sea anemones and their relatives for his thesis, and will continue his research at the museum’s Sackler Institute of Comparative Genomics.
Another graduate, Ansel Payne, focused on the nesting behavior and architecture of solitary bees for his thesis, and will continue postdoctoral research with the museum.