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Science & Technology - Society & Culture

Historic Preservation Scholar and Museum Professional to Lead Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University

November 15, 2017


Below is a message from Drexel University President John Fry:

Dear Drexel Colleagues:

In step with a museum whose scientists explore the far reaches of the globe, our search for a new leader at the Academy of Natural Sciences took us thousands of miles from Philadelphia — to the city of Victoria, British Columbia. There, we met a remarkable museum veteran whose professional journey began in his native Northern England, and eventually took him to Edinburgh, Venice, London, Qatar and Canada’s Pacific coast.

It is my pleasure to announce that Scott Cooper, PhD, will become president and CEO of the Academy, succeeding George W. Gephart, Jr., who guided the nation’s oldest natural history museum through its historic affiliation with Drexel University. Cooper comes to Philadelphia from the Royal British Columbia Museum — home to the largest natural and human history collections in Canada and voted the nation’s best museum. He will join the Academy in the second week of December.

Cooper’s current position as vice president for collections, knowledge and engagement at the Royal BC equips him with a unique perspective on research, interpretation and visitor experience. In Cooper’s view, museum exhibitions should offer visitors “a deeply immersive and truly exceptional experience” with curators looking to their collections for inspiration, making them their “first point of call.” Collections, he says, “reveal remarkable narratives that not only help people understand the past, but, crucially, help them navigate the future.”

The future is very much on Cooper’s mind as he takes over the Academy, an institution with more than 18 million plant and animal specimens, a storied history of research and discovery, and a new scientific collaboration with Drexel’s Department of Biodiversity, Earth and Environmental Science (BEES), which unites the Academy’s renowned researchers with Drexel faculty. Cooper has an ambitious view of building on the Academy’s momentum as a world-class museum that not only inspires people to value their connection to nature but also serves as an academic resource for the generations to come.

Before joining the Royal BC in 2014, Cooper was director of museums at the Qatar Foundation in Doha, Qatar, overseeing a $65 million capital project and creating the first museum dedicated to the subject of slavery in the Islamic world. Prior to that, he worked in London as CEO of the Fulham Palace Trust, where he devised and implemented plans for the restoration and reuse of Fulham Palace, one of England’s most important heritage sites. Trained in construction management at the University of Manchester, Cooper holds a degree in architectural conservation and a doctorate in architecture from Edinburgh College of Art. He is also a graduate of the Getty Leadership Institute, where he continues as faculty. Cooper previously held positions as a heritage consultant, landscape and building conservator, and construction manager in the British private and nonprofit sectors. The father of three young children, he enjoys hiking, fly-fishing and golf.

In Cooper, I believe we have found a hands-on museum scholar — as well-versed in preservation as he is in management. My thanks to the search committee members for their help in recruiting the new Academy leader, particularly, co-chairs Michael Reed, who is vice chair of the Academy board, and M. Brian Blake, executive vice president and provost, and Rosalind Remer, vice provost, research associate professor and executive director, Lenfest Center for Cultural Partnerships, who ably supported the co-chairs in the committee’s work. I am also sincerely grateful to Lisa M. Miller, vice president, CFO/COO for her steadfast stewardship of the Academy in the interim.

Through the Academy, Drexel has become a unique home for scholarship and teaching on some of the most important issues to humankind around biodiversity and environmental science. I am confident that this critically important mission will be in good hands under Scott Cooper’s leadership. Please join me in welcoming him to the Academy and Drexel.


John Fry