Rebecca Nelson, a leading researcher in international agriculture and rural development, received the Outstanding Accomplishments in Science and Public Policy Award in a ceremony Oct. 30 celebrating research, extension and staff excellence at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
Nelson, professor in the School of Integrative Plant Science in both the Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology and Plant Breeding and Genetics sections, focuses her research on understanding and improving disease resistance in crops, particularly maize in Africa. Her lab analyzes the genetic architecture of quantitative disease resistance and dissects quantitative trait loci to identify mechanisms and genes that impair pathogen development, with a special interest in disease resistance. Nelson, who conducts field studies in the U.S. and Africa, has made significant discoveries related to the quantitative and qualitative genetic bases of plant disease.
"Through her impactful research and teaching in international agriculture and rural development, Rebecca has influenced a new generation of scientists to consider the importance of doing research that impacts not only the United States, but the entire world," said Dean Kathryn J. Boor '80.
With a focus on international agriculture and rural development, Nelson serves as scientific director for the McKnight Foundation’s Collaborative Crop Research Program (CCRP), which funds research projects in 12 countries in Africa and Latin America. Through the CCRP, she supports a portfolio of research projects aimed at improving food security in these developing countries. Her approach has become a model for applied research and has led to gains in numerous crops that are important for farmers throughout South America and Africa.
Nelson has worked at the International Potato Center in Lima, Peru, and at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines. She serves as co-chair of the Thematic Group on Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems for the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, a global initiative for the United Nations, and was invited to participate in a moderated panel discussion during Cornell’s historic Charter Day celebration in 2015. The panel included Nelson along with faculty representing diverse academic disciplines across Cornell who discussed paths to secure a more sustainable future, including how to deal with agricultural challenges such as drought.
The Outstanding Accomplishments in Science and Public Policy Award recognizes innovation and leadership by integrating science-based knowledge into public policy and/or management. Such integration requires the development of relationships between scientists and policymakers based on trust and confidence in the integrity of scientific findings.
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