Cornell Plantations Announces Leadership Transition

May 22, 2013

Cornell Plantations will launch a national search for a new director, following the resignation of Donald Rakow, who will be returning full-time to the Department of Horticulture.

The announcement was made on May 22 by Kathryn Boor, the Ronald P. Lynch Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS).

Horticulture professor Chris Wien was named as interim director on June 6.

Cornell Plantations, an affiliate of CALS, is the botanical gardens, arboretum, and natural areas of Cornell University.

“Cornell Plantations is one of the most highly regarded public gardens in the nation, with a mission to nurture and grow Cornell’s world-class natural spaces, enhancing the aesthetic, educational and recreational experience enjoyed by campus residents and visitors,” said Boor. “This transition is an opportunity to lead a dynamic portfolio of spaces and programs that serve a diverse audience.”

Don Rakow
Don Rakow

“Don’s leadership has been a key part of the transformation of Cornell Plantations in the last two decades. I am grateful for his expertise, enthusiasm and partnership,” Boor added.

Rakow has been a member of the Cornell faculty since 1987 and joined Cornell Plantations more than 20 years ago. He was the associate director from 1993 through 1995, and was named executive director in 1996. He created and directs the Cornell Graduate Program in Public Garden Leadership, which is one of only two such programs in the nation.

Reflecting on his tenure, Rakow said: “Our growth, even through budget limitations and challenging economic climates, has certainly been among my greatest satisfactions. For so much of this, I credit Plantations’ amazing staff and our incredibly generous donors and advisors.”

Wien will take up the helm as interim Plantations director on July 1. He has previously served as acting director of the Plantations from July 2006 to Jan, 2007.

Wien, who received his master’s degree from Cornell in 1967 and his Ph.D in 1971, joined the Department of Vegetable crops as a postdoctoral fellow in 1971, and returned as assistant professor in 1979, after working abroad as a research scientist studying grain legume physiology in Nigeria. He served as chair of the Department of Fruit and Vegetable Science, then the Department of Horticulture, from 1996-2002.

His research focus has been the production of cut flowers and herbaceous perennials. He also leads outreach projects encouraging the use of high tunnels among both growers and in school gardens. And he has continued international work in Africa, working with smallholder horticulturists in Zimbabwe, and leading student trips through the Cornell International Institute of Food, Agriculture and Development’s SMART program.

Building on the success of the opening of the Brian C. Nevin Welcome Center, Cornell Plantations is now moving forward in the next phase of an ambitious plan to reimagine the Botanical Garden. In the most significant horticultural development since the F. R. Newman Arboretum was created in 1981, the broad expanse of lawn in front of the Nevin Center will be transformed into a beautiful series of new Peony and Perennial Gardens, while the plateau on Comstock Knoll will become a dramatic East Asian Garden.

A major initiative to raise almost $7 million for these projects is underway. Goals include $2.7 million for construction and plant material, and $4 million to endow the new horticulturist positions that will be required to maintain the gardens.