Chair of the Department of Earth and Environmental Science Fred Scatena died Wednesday evening in his home in West Philadelphia after a brief battle with cancer at the age of 58.
“This is a tremendous loss for the Penn community. Fred was enormously respected as an eminent scientist, valued colleague, and exceptional academic leader,” President Amy Gutmann said in an email statement. “I am grateful for his outstanding leadership and join countless students and colleagues in expressing my enormous sadness over his untimely passing.”
Scatena, who had been a full professor at Penn since 2002, was active in and out of the classroom. “Someone like Fred is not a person who is easily replaceable,” School of Arts and Sciences Dean Rebecca Bushnell said.
“He has been a wonderful chair and colleague at Penn for many years. This is very distressing for everyone who knew him,” Bushnell added. “Fred Scatena was just one of those extraordinary leaders.”
Scatena was due to teach a course this semester called “Natural Disturbances.” The class will still be held, according to Bushnell. Earth and Environmental Science professor Steven Phipps will fill in for Scatena.
Meanwhile, Earth and Environmental Science professor Arthur Johnson was appointed as the interim chair for the department.
“We’re doing a search right now for a new senior professor anyway,” Bushnell explained of the process moving forward. “In due course, the department will meet and talk about what they want to do looking forward.”
Scatena was involved with several of the sustainability initiatives on campus, working with staff, students and administrators as chair of the Academic Sub-Committee in the Environmental Sustainability Advisory Committee. He also served as the faculty sponsor for a student-run journal, the Penn Sustainability Review.
College junior James Teng, who worked with Scatena as one of the students leaders of PSR, said Scatena was “super approachable.”
“He just always made himself available and was there for us to talk to,” he said. “He was such a nice guy. There was no friction.”
2011 College graduate and former Daily Pennsylvanian columnist Alec Webley, who worked with Scatena in the past to bring Jared Diamond to campus, said in an email, “He was a huge supporter of the [Philomathean Society] and of student events like these and was just a wonderful person to work with. I was tremendously sad to hear of his passing.”
Outside of his interactions with students, Scatena was also interested in the study of aquatic ecosystems, according to Dan Garofalo, Penn’s environmental sustainability coordinator.
“Fred was a very thoughtful and accommodating leader,” Garofalo said in an email. “I thoroughly enjoyed dealing with him, and my interactions were pleasant, work related and non-work related. He had a deep and abiding concern for the environment … [and] we will miss him very much.”
Scatena is survived by his wife, his daughter and his son.
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