Staff Biographies

David J. Skorton

Secretary-elect of the Smithsonian Institution

March 10, 2014

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Dr. David J. Skorton was elected the 13th Secretary of the Smithsonian by the Institution’s Board of Regents in March 2014; he officially assumes his position July 2015.

As Secretary, Skorton will oversee 19 museums and galleries, 20 libraries, the National Zoo and numerous research centers, including the Smithsonian Astrophysics Observatory, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center. He will be responsible for an annual budget of $1.3 billion, 6,500 employees and 6,300 volunteers. The Smithsonian’s federal appropriation for fiscal year 2014 is $805 million, which accounts for 62 percent of the Institution’s funding. The Smithsonian generates additional funding from private contributions and business revenues.

Skorton, 64, a board-certified cardiologist, is currently the president of Cornell University, a position he has held since July 2006. He is also a professor in the Departments of Medicine and Pediatrics at Weill Cornell Medical College, and in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the College of Engineering. His research focus is congenital heart disease, cardiac imaging and image processing. Skorton will be the first physician to lead the Smithsonian.

Under Skorton’s leadership, Cornell partnered with Technion-Israel Institute of Technology to win an international competition to develop a new type of graduate school, Cornell NYC Tech, under development on Roosevelt Island in New York City. The graduate school, currently operating in space donated by Google Inc. in Manhattan, combines deep technical knowledge with real-world experience and an entrepreneurial culture.

Skorton has also been a highly effective fundraiser at Cornell, leading his team to raise more than $5 billion during his presidency.

Before becoming Cornell’s president, Skorton was president of the University of Iowa from 2003 to 2006. He was a member of its faculty for 26 years. At the University of Iowa, he completed the first billion-dollar fundraising campaign in the state. 

An ardent and nationally recognized supporter of the arts and humanities, Skorton has called for a national dialogue to emphasize the importance of funding for these disciplines. He asserts that supporting the arts and humanities is a wise investment in the future of the country.

Skorton is a strong proponent of industry–university partnerships. He has been active in innovation and economic development at the state and national levels to bring business and universities together toward diversifying regional economies. He is a member and past chair of the Business-Higher Education Forum, an independent, nonprofit organization of industry CEOs, leaders of colleges and universities, and foundation executives.

Skorton is a pioneer in applying computer analysis and processing techniques to cardiac imaging; he has published two major texts and numerous articles, reviews and book chapters on cardiac imaging and image processing.

Since 1980, he has been part of a cohort of physicians around the world who specialize in caring for adolescents and adults with congenital heart disease. At the University of Iowa, he co-founded the university’s Adolescent and Adult Congenital Heart Disease Clinic. He also helped found the Society for Adult Congenital Cardiac Disease, now the International Society for Adult Congenital Heart Disease.

Skorton was elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies and is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. A national leader in research ethics, he was the charter president of the Association for the Accreditation of Human Research Protection Programs Inc., the first group organized specifically to accredit human research protection programs.

His memberships and board service have included the American College of Cardiology, American Heart Association, Council on Competitiveness and Korea America Friendship Society. He is a life member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Skorton is an avid musician who plays the flute and the saxophone. He worked as a musician in the Chicago area and cohosted “As Night Falls—Latin Jazz” a weekly program on the University of Iowa’s public FM radio station. 

Skorton earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1970 and his M.D. in 1974, both from Northwestern University. He completed his medical residency and fellowship in cardiology at the University of California, Los Angeles in 1979. He was born in Milwaukee, Wis., and moved to Los Angeles with his family when he was nine years old. He is married to Robin L. Davisson, The Andrew Dickson White Professor of Molecular Physiology at Cornell University.

Skorton succeeds Wayne Clough, who will retire from the Smithsonian at the end of 2014. An acting Secretary for the period between Clough’s departure and Skorton’s arrival will be named at a later date.

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Dr. David Skorton, 13th Smithsonian Secretary

Dr. David Skorton

Dr. David Skorton, 13th Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution / courtesy Cornell University Photography

Dr. David J. Skorton, president of Cornell University and a board-certified cardiologist, is the 13th Secretary of the Smithsonian, effective July 2015.



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