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Dean's message

periodiCALS, Vol. 7, Issue 2, 2017

Dean Boor and President Pollack outdoors
Dean Kathryn J. Boor '80 with President Martha Pollack at the inauguration Street Fair. Photo by Dave Burbank.

Change is in the air on campus, including across CALS. In August, Cornell marked a pivotal new chapter with the inauguration of President Martha Pollack. The two-day celebration featured her articulation of her vision for Cornell, informed by and grounded in its founding principles but also inspired by current and future challenges.

In this environment of change, this issue of periodiCALS looks at how some of our CALS researchers and educators have been inspired by change, including one who pushed his own boundaries in new ways after seeing the global impact of his research. And another whose path as an instructor and then administrator ultimately motivated his renewed focus on mentoring students and developing innovative teaching methods. 

As a researcher, I’ve seen how changes in the lab—especially through advancing technology—have shifted opportunities among newer generations of researchers. The primary focus of my own dissertation, which was five years in completion, revolved around sequencing and characterizing about 7 kilobase pairs of the Bacillus subtilis genome. Today, the undergraduates in my lab can crank out thousands of times that much data in a single day. Technologies that enable such massive data acquisition are changing the very nature of the questions that we can now explore in the biological sciences, requiring insight from multiple disciplines. 

As a consequence of these changes, we’ve seen a shift from an era of the lone investigator, with its focus on individual effort, to an era where the complexity of the challenges we choose to tackle demands collaboration and teamwork—and where the need for effective teams can form pathways to new funding opportunities. 

This environment of change and collaboration is what many of the new faculty joining CALS this fall—whom you can meet and read about on the CALS website—are most excited about at Cornell. Neil Lewis Jr., assistant professor in communication, is eager to collaborate with College of Engineering colleagues to study how team interactions among people with different backgrounds affect long-term retention in the STEM fields. And plant biology professor Chelsea Specht plans to collaborate with our Plant Transformation Facility to develop new gene editing protocols. 

Since our founding, CALS has evolved to meet the changing needs of our world—the discovery of knowledge drives us as scientists. That drive has remained a constant over time, even as the methods and technologies have advanced. Through this lens of change, I hope you’ll be as inspired as I am by the stories in this issue, which reveal the work we do and its impact on the lives of others. 

As always, thank you for your support and interest in Cornell CALS.

Kathryn J. Boor
Ronald P. Lynch Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences