Message from the Dean
We live in a highly connected and interdependent world. Science, education, and engagement have strongly shaped our modern society, with academic freedom, collaboration, and basic exploration enabling universities to effect positive change, from local to global scales. As change happens faster and the boundaries between society, technology, and nature blur, many important questions remain for universities in the 21st century. How will we create the most profitable and equitable futures, both individually and collectively, by translating basic inquiry into real-world solutions? How will we respond to the great societal needs and challenges of our time in a way that transcends traditional boundaries and conventional thinking? What role will we play in shaping the bright young minds around us, inspiring the next generation of change-makers and global leaders?
Working alongside our stakeholders and partners, the Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences is addressing these questions head-on. We aspire to solve complex, multidimensional challenges by blending our unique education, science, innovation, extension, and diversity programs. We have deep if not unrivaled expertise in agricultural, life, environmental, and social sciences, with a proven track record of pioneering efforts in scholarship, the student experience, and Land-Grant community collaboration with farmers, producers, communities, and businesses.
This enterprising spirit to make the world better than we found it has been challenging us to think bigger since Cornell’s College of Agriculture was established by the New York Legislature in 1904 – a time when about 40% of the U.S. population worked in agriculture.
But just as agriculture, food production, life science, and society have changed radically since the last century, what has kept CALS at the forefront in the past will be necessary but insufficient as we effect change in future decades. The challenges of today are bigger, more abstract, and arguably more pressing than ever before.
Rather, as our work seeks to improve life in this “solutions century” and beyond, I believe we must develop novel pathways for knowledge generation, inspire even greater basic discoveries, and build problem-solving approaches that recognize the interdependency of our local and global milieu. I believe we need to do even more to combine academic fields and move beyond traditional approaches to external funding. New connection points must be co-created within and outside the academy, budding new disciplines of the future that prize full inclusion and freedom of academic thought in our college while challenging our own paradigms of how the world works – and how it can work better for all.
Cornell CALS is poised to expand our horizons to empower our local and regional work’s influence on the global population and bring that knowledge back to our home communities. As we broaden our individual vistas every day, and innovate collectively, we will serve those close to Ithaca and around the world with our core strengths and collaborative leadership. By leveraging our expertise in more intentional, actionable ways, we can inspire new fundamental scientific discoveries and identify groundbreaking solutions that truly advance understanding of the natural world and improve life – leveraging our human capacity in uncommon, radical ways.
We began this strategic process in fall 2021 to develop a new vision for Cornell CALS, leveraging our historic excellence for even greater impact and building upon Ezra Cornell’s vision “to do the greatest good.” As we examined questions about how the college could become even more future-focused and pioneering, we unlocked newfound inspiration inside and outside academia – including from more than 700 community members and stakeholder groups who shaped the vision. In spring 2022, faculty and staff committees explored opportunities and barriers, shedding fresh light on our traditional silos of thought, expertise, funding, and structure.
This new roadmap is thereby structured into challenges, strategies, and goals based on a consultative process of engagement. The collective vision of the roadmap is to build on our interdisciplinary approach to education, where half of our majors draw from multiple academic disciplines, including several from outside the college. Through this vision, we aim to create new pathways for transdisciplinary research and innovation that leverage our disciplinary strengths, both deepening and broadening connections to stakeholder communities in New York and worldwide, seeking to serve their needs and involve them in every step of our science. We will also refresh and renew our steadfast commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion; extension; grant funding; and fundraising, while ensuring our efforts do not disproportionally affect communities in a negative way because of our approach. We will lead through and by collaboration in the “solutions century.”
The heart of this plan also outlines several exciting new “transdisciplinary moonshots” to push new boundaries as we pursue strategic initiatives that build up our institution and enhance our current education, research, and extension/outreach activities. Only by working together in creative new ways will we build upon our extensive accomplishments and fully realize the opportunities that lie ahead of us. I can’t wait to get going on it with you, for our world!
-Benjamin Z. Houlton
Ronald P. Lynch Dean
May 11, 2022