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  • School of Integrative Plant Science
  • Plant Breeding and Genetics Section
  • Department of Communication
  • Field Crops
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Today, Benjamin Z. Houlton, the Ronald P. Lynch Dean, announced that Sahara Byrne, professor of communication, will join the CALS leadership team as the senior associate dean of academic affairs and strategic programs, effective June 1. The five-year term will run through May 31, 2026.
Sahara Byrne
Sahara Byrne, professor of communication, begins her role as CALS’ senior associate dean of CALS academic programs on May 31, 2021. Photo provided.

“I am honored to serve the legacy of CALS in this capacity,” Byrne said. “CALS is a college focused on collaborative and innovative solutions to the most critical issues facing our planet and our place as humans thriving upon it.

In this new role, Byrne will work collaboratively with Houlton and Senior Associate Deans Beth Ahner and Esther Angert to fulfill the college’s strategic priorities, with a primary focus on designing and implementing programming that enhances the CALS student experience from admissions to post-graduate careers and other achievements.

“The students within our college are the lifeblood of future discoveries,” Byrne said. I plan to work as hard as I can to create a learning environment that maximizes their impact on the world now and throughout their lives.”

She will lead  the Office of Academic Programs, including the Office of Student Services, CALS Admissions, the CALS Office of Professional Programs and Extended Learning. Additionally, she will oversee cross-college majors.

In the Department of Communication, Byrne’s work has championed this collaborative approach. Her research on youth-targeted health messaging is built on federally funded partnerships across four colleges, which also provides unique research experiences for students.

She has received multiple awards for her teaching and advising, including a Kendall S. Carpenter Memorial Advising Award in 2016. Byrne previously served as the director of undergraduate studies in Communication, and this summer, she will conclude her term as inaugural co-director of the Cornell Center for Social Sciences.

Across the college and the university, Byrne’s vast leadership experience has continuously supported the diverse community of students, faculty and staff. 

Byrne will replace Don Viands, who will be retiring May 31, after 18 years as associate dean and the director of academic programs, and after 42 years as a professor of plant breeding and genetics in the School of Integrative Plant Science.

Among his accomplishments, Viands spearheaded several significant CALS initiatives, including the creation of the agricultural science major and the advancement of the life sciences distribution requirement. He continually sought to better support students, both by improving undergraduate advising and by furthering the annual CALS learning outcomes assessment process.

Don Viands
Don Viands, who will be retiring May 31, after 18 years as associate dean and the director of academic programs, and after 42 years as a professor of plant breeding and genetics in the School of Integrative Plant Science.

Before becoming associate dean of CALS and director the Office of Academic Programs in 2003, he served as the associate director of CALS academic programs from 1995 to 2002.

As a scientist, Viands led the Cornell Forage Breeding Project, where he conducted genetic research on perennial forage varieties to optimize traits for cold climates. He also worked to develop perennial grasses and legumes to be used as feedstocks for the biofuel industry. Recently, he has been an active member on the Cornell Hemp Research Team, examining the performance and breeding of industrial hemp varieties.

“Don’s support and dedication in his many roles over the last four decades have strengthened our college and served our current and future students in countless ways,” Houlton said. “I extend a heartfelt thank you for his lifetime of service to CALS and wish him all the best in retirement.”

“I’m equally grateful to Sahara for stepping into her new role,” Houlton added. “I have no doubt she will leverage her wealth of experience and expertise to improve our processes across CALS and Cornell — to serve our students with the dedication and innovation that help bolster the many life-changing opportunities available to them.”  

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