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Specht named new dean for diversity and inclusion at College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Chelsea Specht, a Barbara McClintock Professor of Plant Biology in the School of Integrative Plant Science, has been appointed the inaugural associate dean for diversity and inclusion for CALS. Above, Specht. Photo by Lindsay France 

Chelsea Specht, a Barbara McClintock Professor of Plant Biology in the School of Integrative Plant Science, has been appointed the inaugural associate dean for diversity and inclusion for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS). The two-year term began July 1.

As a member of the CALS senior leadership team and the college’s key diversity officer, Specht will lead college-wide diversity initiatives. These efforts include recruiting and hiring diverse faculty, supporting scholarship, and developing strategic initiatives to improve the climate of inclusion and belonging across the college. Specht will also chair the Faculty-Staff-Student CALS Diversity and Inclusion Committee, enhance diversity and inclusion in CALS graduate programs, and advise CALS leadership on matters related to diversity and inclusion.

Specht’s academic focus is on the evolutionary biology of plants, specifically, the evolution and diversification of plant form and function. Prior to arriving at Cornell in 2017, her work in the area of diversity and inclusion included appointments at University of California, Berkeley to the Academic Senate’s Committee on Diversity, Equity and Campus Climate and the Committee on Demonstrations and Student Actions. Also at Berkeley, she served as a Faculty Equity Advisor and worked on transforming graduate admissions as part of a special committee supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Through these roles, Specht helped develop, evaluate and execute departmental strategies for equity, inclusion and diversity and helped establish best practices for faculty hiring and graduate admissions to minimize bias and increase diversity.

“CALS supports Cornell’s historic commitment to diversity and inclusion,” said Kathryn J. Boor ’80, the Ronald P. Lynch Dean. “Providing solutions to today’s complex challenges requires diverse and interdisciplinary perspectives that enrich both innovation and the advancement of purpose-driven science. I look forward to working with Chelsea in her new role to enhance CALS’ environment of equality and inclusiveness.”

Specht says she is passionate about working with the CALS community knowing that the direct benefits of diversity, equity and inclusion are highly valued by the college. “We are fortunate to have research-based evidence combined with personal experiences that clearly demonstrate the importance of diversity in all aspects of academia,” says Specht. “I am excited to be part of CALS’ community of faculty, staff, students and administrators who insist on being at the forefront in developing best practices for recruitment and retention and to work in this new role to foster diversity and inclusion at Cornell.”