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Announcing New Leadership for our Third Century: Dr. Nicholas Dirks

Nicholas Dirks, Ph.D. President and CEO, New York Academy of Sciences

Nicholas Dirks, Ph.D. President and CEO, New York Academy of Sciences

By Jerry Hultin, Chair, New York Academy of Sciences Board of Governors

Many of you may recall that about three years ago, as the New York Academy of Sciences celebrated its 200th anniversary, Ellis Rubinstein announced his decision to retire from his role as President and CEO.

Finding a replacement for Ellis was likely to be daunting, especially because the Board wanted a leader who could leverage our heritage, attract new donors, increase our impact, and strengthen our finances. The Search Committee, headed by Vice Chairman Thomas Pompidou, interviewed a talented cross-section of qualified candidates. But one candidate stood out as especially exciting — Dr. Nicholas (Nick) Dirks. So I am pleased to announce the appointment of Dr. Nicholas B. Dirks as the next President and CEO of the New York Academy of Sciences. Nick has already begun his work during this transition period, and will join the Academy full-time in June. Dr. Dirks is Professor of History and Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley, as well as the Franz Boas Professor Emeritus of Anthropology and History at Columbia University. He has taught at Caltech, the University of Michigan, Columbia, and Berkeley.

A strength of the Academy has been its status as a neutral and respected convener. As a result, over the past 200 years it has been able to bring together a highly diverse range of experts to address the most pressing scientific and technological challenges of the day. Moreover, the Academy’s founders believed that opening membership to people of all ages and backgrounds, not just academics or other STEM professionals, was the best way to achieve this goal.

Nick Dirks’ whole career reflects this vision. At the University of Michigan, he merged anthropology with history to create a new interdepartmental Ph.D. program, fostering a whole new approach to both disciplines. At Columbia, he rebuilt several departments, increased the diversity of the faculty, and promoted the internationalization of the university. As the 10th Chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, he led major initiatives in undergraduate education, global outreach, and interdisciplinary and cross-institutional research. His work spanned disciplines, but focused in particular on the fields of neuroscience, biomedical sciences, and data science. Most recently, as Chancellor of Whittle School & Studios, Nick has introduced a unique and comprehensive approach to K-12 education. For more information about Nick’s impressive career, go to

Nick Dirks joins the Academy at a crucial moment in science and technology. As we go to press with this edition of the New York Academy of Sciences Magazine, the country — indeed the world — is in a battle with a novel and deadly coronavirus, COVID-19. Regardless of the outcome of this pandemic, our experience with such diseases reinforces our core belief that society depends on good science and technology. I believe that Nick Dirks is the right leader for the Academy in its Third Century. His grasp of the issues facing science, technology, and society, along with his close relationships with scientific and technology communities, policy makers, and leaders in business, philanthropy, and government, will take the Academy to a whole new level.

I’m thrilled to have such a distinguished academician and leader in education join the Academy as President and CEO, so please join me in welcoming Nicholas Dirks. In the coming months we will be hosting a series of programs where you’ll have an opportunity to learn more about his vision for the
Academy. Check our website at for more to come!

Jerry Hultin
Chair, New York Academy of Sciences Board of Governors