Dr. Sean M. Decatur, an acclaimed biophysical chemist and academic, will become the first Black president of the Natural History Museum, reports the New York Times. He’ll begin his tenure in April 2023.
Before accepting his new position, Decatur, since 2013, served as president of Kenyon College. He will step down from his position at the college at the end of 2022.
“It has been a tremendous honor for me to lead this remarkable community over the past 9.5 years—to learn, to teach, and to grow alongside you—and to aspire together to what I know is a very bright future for Kenyon,” Decatur wrote in a statement to the Kenyon community.
When asked about his historic appointment, Decatur noted that the move was a progression of his vision to bring science to the masses.
“I have spent my career committed to access and opportunity for students and also to an understanding of science,” he said in an interview. “This feels like a natural evolution.”
“I feel as if everything I’ve done in life has led up to the tremendous privilege, responsibility, and opportunity of heading the American Museum of Natural History,” he added.
As the institution’s new leader, Decatur will be tasked to lead the recently completed, state-of-the-arc Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation, which cost $431 million to construct.
Decatur’s experience as an academic will prove to be one of his strongest assets as the museum seeks to continue its commitment to education. Since 2008, the museum has offered a doctoral-degree program in comparative biology and it launched master’s program in teaching science in 2011.
An accomplished scholar and leader, Decatur earned his bachelor’s degree from Swarthmore College and a doctorate in biophysical chemistry from Stanford University. From 1995 to 2008, he was an assistant and associate professor of chemistry at Mount Holyoke College, where he helped to establish a highly regarded research program in biophysical chemistry. Also, he was a visiting scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 2004 to 2005. And from 2008 to 2013, he was a professor of chemistry and biochemistry, and the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Oberlin College.
He believes that his skill set in higher education makes him equipped to lead a renowned cultural institution such as the National History Museum.
“There is a lot that translates from higher education to the cultural world, but there are also going to be a lot of new things to learn, both about this type of institution and about the museum in particular,” he said. “I’m excited to get started.”
Decatur is married to Renee Romano, the Robert S. Danforth Professor of History and Professor of Comparative American Studies and Africana Studies at Oberlin. They have two adult children, Sabine and Owen.