By Carolyn Belardo
Five years after engineering a groundbreaking affiliation that has become a model for other institutions, George W. Gephart, Jr. has announced that he will retire next year as president and CEO of the Academy.
Gephart, a long-time Philadelphia-area business and nonprofit leader, seized the helm of the nation’s oldest natural history museum on the eve of its bicentennial and propelled the Academy into its third century with renewed focus and new partnerships.
Less than a year later, in May 2011, Gephart and Drexel University President John Fry formed a unique affiliation, uniting two of Philadelphia’s most respected institutions to promote discovery, learning and civic engagement in the natural and environmental sciences.
“Today, the Academy of Natural Sciences is academically vibrant and fiscally sound with exciting opportunities for new growth, thanks to George and his team,” said Fry. “His ability to motivate and instill passion and trust across our institutions and in the community is an inspiration to us all.”
Peter Austen, chair of the Academy’s Board of Trustees, said Gephart will be greatly missed.
“George set the tone for excellence and possibilities across all disciplines, from research to education to exhibition,” said Austen. “He ignited our passion and, with clear eyes, led us to explore what the future of the Academy could look like. That future is rich in potential, and we look forward to traveling that road with our next president.”
The Academy has launched a national search for Gephart’s successor and plans to have the position filled by summer, when Gephart, 63, of Newtown Square, retires to South Carolina with his wife, Elizabeth. Until then, there’s more work to do.
“I’m so proud to be part of this amazing institution,” said Gephart. “The Academy is operating from a position of strength and ready to take the next step in its ambitious future. The pieces are in place for the next leader to charge ahead.”
Founded in 1812, the Academy of Natural Sciences is a leading natural history museum dedicated to advancing research, education, and public engagement in biodiversity and environmental science.
Known as “the dinosaur museum” for its popular dinosaur exhibits and history of paleontological research, the Academy is one of Philadelphia’s leading cultural destinations, with nearly 230,000 visitors each year.
Gephart began his tenure at the Academy in August 2010 after 30 years in business, finance and nonprofit leadership. An avid naturalist, birder and outdoorsman with a keen interest in the environment and the natural sciences, he fit right in.
In his first nine months he led a strategic planning process with senior managers and the governing board that resulted in the momentous affiliation with Drexel University, a creative combination of independent entities since duplicated by other institutions.
In September 2012, while in the midst of the Academy’s yearlong bicentennial commemoration, Drexel and the Academy launched the successful Biodiversity, Earth and Environmental Science Department. Drawing on the Academy’s top scientists as professors, BEES offers a hands-on, research-rich learning experience for undergraduate and graduate students.
He presided over a five-year sustainable strategic plan that identifies an ambitious vision for the Academy through innovative exhibits, engaging education programs, compelling visitor experiences, and relevant research.
Leveraging the institution’s long history of water quality research, Gephart presided over a long-term partnership with the William Penn Foundation and almost 50 other nonprofits to improve water quality in the four-state region through the Delaware River Watershed Initiative.
Not as visible to the public but critical to the inner workings of the Academy, Gephart put in place internal systems, practices and upgrades that were needed. He engaged the university to invest in the Academy’s building operations, information technology, human resources, and its employees with better benefits and compensation.
Looking back on the last six years, Gephart said he wants to be remembered especially for his efforts to instill a feeling of pride and fellowship, trust and passion across the Academy that will last for years to come.