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Sean Decatur ’90 Tapped to Lead American Museum of Natural History

Sean Decatur speaks at Swarthmore podium

Sean Decatur ’90, seen here speaking at Alumni Weekend in 2015, will become the first Black leader of the American Museum of Natural History.

Sean Decatur ’90, president of Kenyon College, has been named the next president of the American Museum of Natural History. Decatur will become the museum’s first Black leader.

A biophysical chemist, Decatur will join the museum in April, shortly after it opens its new science center.

“I have spent my career committed to access and opportunity for students and also to an understanding of science,” Decatur told The New York Times. “This feels like a natural evolution.”

In a 2020 Bulletin article, Decatur credited his “intellectual awakening” to Swarthmore, where he majored in biology and chemistry and had a minor in Black studies. He was one of the first participants in the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program, which supports minority students who wish to enter doctoral programs and pursue professorships.

As an undergraduate, Decatur started a volunteer literacy program in Chester. The program was a rich learning environment, he says, that pushed him out of his comfort zone.

“It was powerful to build relationships with folks who were different from my classmates,” he told the Bulletin.

Decatur earned a doctorate in biophysical chemistry from Stanford University, then served as an assistant and associate professor of chemistry at Mount Holyoke College, a visiting scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a professor of chemistry and biochemistry and dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Oberlin College.

Under Decatur’s leadership, which began in 2013, Kenyon joined the American Talent Initiative, a coalition of colleges working to expand access and opportunity, and kickstarted the Kenyon Access Initiative to increase diversity and foster inclusion.

Decatur, who has been on sabbatical from Kenyon since July, now shifts his focus to the cultural world.

“There is a lot that translates from higher education,” he told the The New York Times, “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. I’m excited to get started.”

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