It all started about 20 years ago during a long lunch break. Peter Austen was new to Philadelphia, having moved to the area to wed Mary Stengel, president and CEO at Tierney. He was taking a midday stroll through Logan Square when he stepped into the Academy of Natural Sciences for a look around.
Four to five hours later, Austen left the museum wanting to know more about the Academy’s roots, visitors, and everything he wasn’t seeing—especially the millions of specimens and stories behind the scenes. Since most of his colleagues and friends hadn’t visited the Academy since childhood, he set out on his own (and over the years with one or more of his five children and their friends in tow) to find out what makes the Academy an enduring Philadelphia institution.
Two decades later, Austen, a senior executive with global insurance broker Willis Towers Watson, thinks he has found his answer. As the child of educators and an active supporter of various causes within the city of Philadelphia, he finds inspiration in offering high-quality educational programs to students, including those who might not otherwise have access to science enrichment. The Academy is able to provide these opportunities, he says, because of its distinctive permanent exhibits and extraordinary efforts to share science and current research with schoolchildren. He is most motivated to support the Academy’s work when he sees students fall in love with science during field trips, school visits, and programs like Women In Natural Sciences, the Academy’s after-school and summer science enrichment program for young women in our city’s public schools.
A deep believer in the Academy’s community commitment, Austen supports the institution through philanthropy, advocacy, and engagement with our Board of Trustees. This summer, after six years of service on the Academy’s Board, including on the Governance and Marketing and Public Experience committees, Austen became Chair.
“We don’t always get the opportunity in life to apply our energy and efforts to something we are passionate about and believe in,” Austen says. “Fortunately, I am doing just that.”
Austen says he is eager to lead the Academy’s staff and board into the future, especially considering the extraordinary institutional changes that have taken place within the last five years. During his time on the Board he has seen the formation of a productive partnership with Drexel University, efforts to create a sustainable operating model for the institution, and deep engagement with the philanthropic community in Philadelphia and beyond. He credits President and CEO George Gephart’s visionary leadership for perfectly situating the Academy as a catalyst for educational and environmental action in our community.
With an engaged, passionate, and talented staff and Board of Trustees driving change, the opportunities for our institution are vast, Austen says. His goal is to bring together the strengths and visions of Academy staff and Trustees to drive our science research and education forward.
“I get excited about what the future holds, when you consider the unheralded role the Academy plays in research about the world we live in,” Austen says. “Alongside Drexel University, we are transforming our community.” ~Mary Alice Hartsock