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By Matt Hayes
  • Cornell AgriTech
  • Department of Global Development
  • Global Development

Linda McCandless ‘74, an intrepid journalist and champion for under-told stories around the world, received the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative’s (BGRI) Norman E. Borlaug Lifetime Achievement Award honoring her career advocating for science and smallholder farmers.

McCandless, who joined the BGRI in 2010, is a strong advocate for science-based journalism and science communication training, with a focus on diversity and empowering lesser-heard voices. Her dedication to issues of food security and the wheat community extends from Cornell University in New York state to the wheat fields of Africa, Asia and beyond.

She plans to retire from Cornell at the end of the 2020.

As a writer and editor she has most recently specialized in international agriculture and development and the persuasive story-telling that brings science to life for all people. She manages her own sheep farm in Spencer, New York, where she lives.

“The hard work of feeding the world requires the passionate drive of scientists, farmers and the dedicated people who make our scientific projects possible,” said Ronnie Coffman, vice chair of the BGRI. Coffman is director of International Programs and international professor in the Department of Global Development.

“Linda is an energetic champion for farmers and science. She is deeply respected by all, and has brought warmth, clarity and a heartfelt touch to all of her work.”

McCandless joined Cornell in 1994 at Cornell AgriTech (then known as the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station) located in Geneva, New York. In 2003, she became director of communications for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) before joining International Programs at CALS (IP-CALS) in 2010 to lead communications efforts for the Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat (DRRW) project. For the last decade she has led communications for the BGRI and IP-CALS and helped the unit expand into research areas in cassava, eggplant, gender, science communication and more.

“From the Experiment Station in Geneva to the Dean’s office in CALS to International Programs, working for Cornell has been an amazing trajectory of people and projects,” McCandless said. "‘Knowledge for public purpose’ is a mission I have always been able to get behind. Having the opportunity to illuminate the work of scientists, students and farmers, strategize to attract media attention and funding, work with talented visual and graphic artists — it has been a life more than a job. Thank you!”

Jeanie Borlaug Laube, chair of the BGRI and daughter of Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman Borlaug, said, “Linda has the uncanny ability to put herself in your shoes and say the things that you would like to say with earnestness and eloquence. I feel she knows what it is like to be Norman Borlaug’s daughter! 

I am so grateful for her profound support building the BGRI into a thriving global community.”

At the DRRW, she was part of the leadership team that marshalled scientists from 22 research institutions around the world to work with farmers to mitigate rust threats through coordinated breeding and surveillance activities and replace susceptible wheat varieties with durably resistant varieties. The DRRW created accelerated multilateral plant breeding pipelines and delivered improved varieties by helping to optimize seed sectors in wheat-growing countries, particularly in East Africa and South Asia.

“Linda is truly an unsung hero of the BGRI. She has spent the past 12 years elevating the work of others, amplifying the voices of others, and advocating for investments that fund the science of others. Now it is time for us to celebrate Linda,” said Sarah Evanega, who directed the DRRW project from 2008 to 2017, and now directs the Cornell Alliance for Science.

McCandless led communication efforts during the two phases of the DRRW and the subsequent Delivering Genetic Gain in Wheat (DGGW) project launched in 2016. She helped conceive the Women in Triticum (WIT) Awards for early career scientists and mentors and the Gene Stewardship Award to recognize excellence in responsible wheat breeding.

Throughout her time with the BGRI McCandless has brought to life the scientific work and human impact of the projects through stories, videos, speeches and global events.

“Linda is a passionate communicator and advocate for science who always puts people first,” said Maricelis Acevedo, associate director of science for DGGW.

“The global wheat community is stronger and more united thanks to her efforts,” Acevedo said.

Coffman added, “I am grateful for her commitment and know that through her advocacy efforts she has made an enduring impact on millions of lives.”

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