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Fernbank President and CEO, Susan Neugent, Announces Retirement 

Jennifer Grant Warner, EVP and Chief Programming Officer, Named Successor

Susan Neugent (left) announces retirement and names Jennifer Grant Warner (right) as successor. High-res photos available upon request.

ATLANTA, March 31, 2017 – Susan Neugent, President and CEO of Fernbank Museum of Natural History, announces today that she will retire from her leadership role after 20 years at the helm of the not-for-profit organization on June 1. Neugent is the longest-tenured CEO among Atlanta’s major arts and culture attractions. Fernbank celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2017, a milestone she sees as a celebration of what the Museum has accomplished and what opportunities lie ahead. Neugent also announced Jennifer Grant Warner, Fernbank’s Executive Vice President and Chief Programming Officer, as her successor.

Under Neugent’s leadership, Fernbank has transformed from a young institution into one of Atlanta’s top cultural attractions. In her two decades at Fernbank, she’s led the Museum into new phases of growth and success, including:

In addition to programmatic development, she has established a strong financial system and base for museum growth. During her tenure, the Museum’s budget has increased by 150%, household memberships have quadrupled, and investment in educational programming has tripled.

Neugent, who said she didn’t come to the decision quickly or lightly, stated that this celebratory year is the right time to transition Fernbank into new leadership. She will remain Fernbank’s President Emeritus, and plans to stay connected to the Museum as a member and supporter. Neugent’s future endeavors present a large scale of opportunities, including plans to engage in research, writing and public policy.

“My career at Fernbank includes some of the most challenging and rewarding experiences in my life. I am proud of the Museum’s incredible success, especially reconnecting with Fernbank’s original legacy to preserve and protect Fernbank Forest,” Neugent said. “In prelude to Fernbank’s 25th anniversary, I know the timing is right, and I can’t wait to see what lies ahead in the Museum’s next chapter.”

With the full backing and unanimous approval by the Board of Trustees, Jennifer Grant Warner has been named as Fernbank’s next President and CEO. Warner, a key member of the executive leadership team, will take over on June 1.

Neugent and Warner have worked closely over their time at Fernbank, often collaborating on the museum’s strategic planning and growth. Most recently, Warner, who has been with Fernbank for 18 years, directed the design, development and opening of WildWoods and the restoration of Fernbank Forest, which added 75 acres of nature experiences to the museum in late September. Since the opening, museum membership has grown to its highest point in more than a decade, and visitation showed spikes of up to 50% above the prior year.

Warner is already deeply involved in Fernbank’s future initiatives, including overseeing the ongoing commitment to forest restoration, continued development of educational programming, initiation of national re-accreditation, development of a new strategic plan, elevating the role of science in the community, and the many ongoing initiatives in research, exhibition strategies, giant screen film planning, and garnering philanthropic support. The year ahead includes several special exhibitions, including Mammoths and MastodonsGladiators: Heroes of the Colosseum, a Fernbank Forest photography installation, and Winter Wonderland: Celebrations and Traditions Around the World. The Museum also plans to open several new films in the Giant Screen Theater in both 3D and 2D formats.

“I am incredibly humbled by and thankful for the opportunity to serve Fernbank in this new capacity, especially as we celebrate Fernbank Museum’s 25th anniversary,” Warner said. “Fernbank’s mission is as important today as it has ever been, and I look forward to exploring opportunities to extend the Museum’s reach, programming, growth and continued success.”

Connecting visitors to science and nature has been at the forefront of Fernbank’s mission since it was founded in 1939 to preserve Fernbank Forest as “a school in the woods for nature studies.” The Museum opened in 1992, dramatically increasing its capacity to serve the public. Since then, it has welcomed more than 9 million visitors, become the premier museum of natural history in the southeast and one of the highest attended cultural institutions in Atlanta. 

Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Teresa Finley, Chief Marketing and Business Services Officer at UPS, has seen the successes of Neugent’s leadership, and also is excited by the potential for Fernbank’s growth under Warner’s leadership.

"Susan Neugent has led Fernbank through 20 years of tremendous growth and success. She has fostered a vision for making Fernbank a national leader in uniting science and discovery in her endeavor to enrich the engagement and excitement of museum explorations," Finley said. "This quality is shared by Jennifer Grant Warner, who has the talent and leadership to build upon Susan's great accomplishments and take Fernbank to even higher levels."