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Cynthia Heckscher

“My goal is to have my passion for the Academy become contagious.”

In her role as Board Chair of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, Cynthia Heckscher seeks to lead by example. Over the past year, she strategically directed her gifts to encourage others to increase their support for this 202-year-old institution. In order to motivate her fellow trustees to increase their personal philanthropy, Ms. Heckscher created a matching fund for their gifts. The impact of this fund was felt across the Academy, from a makeover of the Academy’s children’s discovery center, Outside In, to the support of a new Academy-wide sustainability program.

These exciting new changes are just a part of the extraordinary transformation that has taken place at the Academy since Ms. Heckscher first joined the Board in 2009, beginning with the selection of George W. Gephart Jr. as the Academy’s new president and CEO, and gradually becoming reality with the Academy’s affiliation with Drexel University. In 2010, Ms. Heckscher joined the strategic steering committee which helped to frame the idea for a partnership.

“Having the opportunity to integrate our resources in science, education, communications and public service in such an innovative relationship, while respecting our distinct histories, is a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” she notes of the Academy and Drexel University.

She is also a supporter of the Academy’s autism access initiative, a collaboration between the Academy and the A. J. Drexel Autism Institute that aims to improve access to museums for families with children on the autism spectrum. “This program is a great example of the tremendous potential we have in leveraging the strengths of these two institutions,” she says.

Since day one, Ms. Heckscher and Mr. Gephart have worked together to develop an active and engaged board with a strong committee structure and a commitment to personal giving. Ms. Heckscher’s leadership and the excitement that accompanied the Drexel partnership have reinvigorated the Academy’s board. Academy trustees have demonstrated their enthusiasm through their personal philanthropy, nearly doubling their unrestricted support for the Academy since the affiliation. The Academy’s donors have responded to the transformative affiliation with the University in a similar way.

With enhanced contributor engagement have come increased opportunities for growth, with Ms. Heckscher continuing to seek ways to engage her trustee colleagues in guiding the Academy toward a dynamic future. To that end, her support this past year— together with that of other trustees—has enabled the Academy to begin planning for a new, large-scale permanent exhibition space in its public museum, along with renovations to its Library and Archives Research areas to provide improved access for students and researchers. This initiative is the first undertaking of its kind at the Academy in decades.

As she advocates for new exhibits and programs, Ms. Heckscher is also focused on strengthening existing programs that impact the lives of Philadelphia youth. She is a strong supporter of Women In Natural Sciences (WINS), the Academy’s free after-school and summer science enrichment program for young women from Philadelphia high schools. WINS has introduced hundreds of young women to future careers in science and other professions by providing hands-on science workshops, career and college exploration and positive youth development.

“The success of Women In Natural Sciences is incredible and offers opportunities for replication outside Philadelphia,” notes Ms. Heckscher. “100 percent of these girls graduate high school and over 96 percent go to college and even graduate schools.”

As a managing director of Diversified Search, one of the nation’s largest providers of executive search services, Ms. Heckscher is certainly a role model for young women seeking successful and influential careers. Simply hearing her describe her dedication to the Academy’s mission—to advance research, education and public engagement in biodiversity and environmental science—has inspired many of her friends and fellow trustees to deepen their engagement with the institution.

“My goal is to have my passion for the Academy become contagious,” she says. “While I love my work and my clients, I’m continually struck by how the Academy has become an allconsuming interest and one I could happily seek to share with others, 24/7.”

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July 1, 2013 - June 30, 2014
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