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  • Cornell Institute for Digital Agriculture
  • Biological and Environmental Engineering
  • Agriculture
  • Biology
Professor Emeritus Norman Scott and his wife, Sharon, have endowed a professorship that will support transdisciplinary, innovative research and teaching in food, agriculture and life sciences.

Norman Scott, Ph.D. ’62, has spent his career at Cornell supporting agriculture and sustainability, becoming a leader in the development of biological engineering solutions for poultry and dairy systems, renewable energy, managed ecosystems, and farm and food waste recycling.

A professor emeritus of biological and environmental engineering (BEE), Scott and his wife, Sharon, made a gift of $3 million to endow a new professorship that will continue that work into the future. The new Norman R. and Sharon R. Scott Professorship will be appointed within the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

“Throughout his career as a researcher, educator and administrator, Norm stood out for his pioneering approach, paving the way for current work on digital agriculture and other areas where the agricultural, environmental, life and social sciences intersect,” said Benjamin Houlton, the Ronald P. Lynch Dean of CALS. “With this endowed professorship, generously given by Norm and Sharon, CALS can attract a scholar in this same mold, who can lead future-focused efforts that span disciplines across the college and university.”

Scott said he hopes the new professorship will be occupied by a visionary and strategic leader who will engage in cross-disciplinary programs like the Cornell Institute for Digital Agriculture. The professor should be innovative, engage in transdisciplinary research and value convergence thinking – critical analysis that can bring together disparate perspectives and information sources to develop solutions to complex problems in food and agriculture systems.

“I grew up on a farm in eastern Washington, so I have always had a strong interest in food and agriculture, and that feeling has only grown the more I’ve learned about food and agricultural systems,” Scott said. “There is no area of human activity more basic to society than a sustainable agricultural, food and natural resource system.”

A member of the faculty since 1962, Scott spent the first 22 years of his career conducting research on topics like thermoregulation in poultry; electronic applications in agriculture, especially automatic animal identification; estrus detection; and machine milking in cows – research now within the realm of digital agriculture.

In 1984 Scott was appointed director of the Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station, and in 1989 he became the university’s vice president for research and advanced studies. In those roles he led efforts to increase federal USDA research funding for competitive programs; he played a key role in building the Nanotechnology Research Initiative within the U.S. Department of Agriculture; and he led development, with directors of 30 other agricultural experiment stations nationwide, for a USDA research and extension initiative on water quality and quantity.

After 15 years in university administration, Scott returned to BEE and shifted his research focus to sustainability. He conducted laboratory and field research on anaerobic digestion (a process that converts food, farm and livestock wastes into usable energy), and led advancement of nanoscale engineering applications for food and agriculture systems.

Scott also developed one of the first courses on sustainability at Cornell and, in 1999, made it available online so it could be more accessible across campus and around the globe. He hopes the person who holds the new professorship will also prioritize excellence in teaching and mentorship.

“During most of my career, I felt that federal dollars and public attention on research related to food and agriculture was not as highly valued as other scientific research,” Scott said. “Now, with the increased focus on global poverty, food security and climate change, there is much increased interest and recognition, worldwide, of the importance of research in food and ag. I’m glad to see that and am hopeful that my contribution, along with the contributions of others, will help build a group of outstanding, world-class researchers and teachers in the broad area of digital ag.”

Norm and Sharon Scott have been married for 61 years and have three daughters: Robin Goss, Nanette Talaski ’88 and Shirlene Scott.

Krisy Gashler is a writer for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

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