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Q&A: Brian Bodah Joins NYSAES Leadership Team

New Assistant Director Discusses His Background and Vision for the Geneva Station

Brian Bodah
Brian Bodah. Photo: Matt Hayes / CALS

Brian Bodah recently joined the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station (NYSAES) as assistant director. The position is tasked with helping to oversee and promote the operations of the Geneva Station and the more than 230 research projects undertaken each year by faculty and students. 

Before joining the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and NYSAES, Bodah served for two years as director of county extension at Washington State University – Pierce County and as an agriculture faculty member. He received his Bachelor’s in Environmental Science from the Ohio State University and his Ph.D. in Biological Systems Engineering from Washington State University. Most recently, he received his MBA from the University of Washington Tacoma’s Milgard School of Business.

He spoke with CALS about his experience, his interests, and where he envisions opportunities for NYSAES to continue its impact in New York and around the world.

You came from Ohio State and Washington universities. What attracted you to Cornell?

I’m a native of Syracuse, born and raised on the city’s north side, so coming to Cornell is a homecoming. My entire family still resides in the greater Syracuse area, with the exception of my brother in Pittsburgh. I have two small children, and being in Washington State was very tough on us during the holidays. We’re all very excited to be within easy driving distance of the family and this will be the first holiday my daughters’ were able to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas in-person with the family.

What attracted me to Cornell, in addition to returning to New York, is the University’s world-renowned reputation, not only for cutting edge research, but also in the Land-Grant mission, outreach, and education through Cornell Cooperative Extension. I earned my Ph.D. at Washington State’s Land-Grant university, but also began my career in higher education at the institution as the director of WSU Pierce County Extension. Over the past two and a half years, I saw the incredible impact that Extension has on the lives of a wide variety of individuals, and I’m very proud to be continuing my service at a very well respected Land-Grant institution.

Your role at NYSAES is not a faculty position, but your background is as a scientist. What were your main research focus areas while at Washington?

My Ph.D. research in Washington State focused on the reduction of suspended sediment and nutrient loads in irrigated agricultural return flows in the Yakima Valley. Most people don’t realize that Central Washington is a desert, with the entire region completely dependent on irrigation from the Columbia River. Excess water that flows over farm fields but does not infiltrate into the soil picks up sediment, pollutants, pesticides and fertilizers that it then carries back into the river. The Pacific Northwest is known for its strong salmon runs, and this agricultural runoff makes the rivers less habitable for salmonids, in addition to lowering local drinking water quality.

Our attempt to remediate this was through the implementation of vegetative filter strips directly on the irrigated land that intercepted the water before it could reach the river. This was the first time this had ever been done on this type of irrigated farm field to the best of our knowledge. We had great success in reducing both overland flow volume and nutrient and sediment loads.

What will your role be like as assistant director?

My role as assistant director will largely be a supportive role to the Station’s director, Dr. Susan Brown. For a position such as this, there is no standard position description, and I will work in close concert with Dr. Brown to determine which aspects of the responsibilities of the Director’s Office I’ll take the lead on and on which I’ll support the tremendous work that Dr. Brown does on a daily basis. I will be devoting energy to in increasing our profile both in the local community and in the New York State legislature, working with Assistant Dean Julie Suarez. We want to get the word out about the groundbreaking research we conduct year after year.

The Station has a strong legacy as a place for innovation. Where do you see opportunities for NYSAES to continue that kind of impact?

There are abundant opportunities such as new means of controlling pests and insects, new varieties and new products. Partnership with the Agriculture and Food Technology Park at Geneva is another unique opportunity for entrepreneurship. This partnership with local entrepreneurs allows for unparalleled access to Cornell-based resources for those outside of the Cornell system. NYSAES is best suited to maximize this collaborative relationship. NYSAES is also exploring new research foci such as agricultural technology, in addition to strengthening our relationship with regional educational institutions. I look forward to spirited conversations regarding these opportunities as I continue to meet with faculty members, researchers, and local area business and education leaders.

Tell us a little about your life outside of work. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

I have always enjoyed being outdoors, and when I am not at work I can usually be found on a local trail, lakefront, or traipsing through the woods. I also have a very strong interest in old, historical cemeteries and am quite impressed by their prevalence in this area. I left Syracuse in 1999 and am looking forward to getting back in touch with the region’s mixed deciduous hardwood forest and the Finger Lakes region’s stunning geology. Having spent the past six years on the West Coast, I’ve grown quite fond of local, super hoppy micro-brews, artisanal hard ciders, and to an increasing extent, wine. I’m very excited about the Finger Lakes region’s offerings and anticipate spending some time exploring the array of wines, ciders, and micro-brews that New York has to offer.