SIPS Visioning Updates

November 23, 2022

We’re nearing the end of a remarkably busy semester, so the Ithaca campus this morning seems especially quiet, as we head into the Thanksgiving Break: the undergraduate students have vanished and the lines for coffee have finally shrunk. Magdalen’s weekly newsletters touch on some of the exciting SIPS stories and announcements, but as you can imagine these represent only a small portion of the accomplishments and activities across the school. It would take a fulltime team to keep everyone entirely up to date, but here are a few updates and recent highlights:


I’m delighted to announce that Vipan Kumar will be joining SIPS as an Associate Professor in the Soil & Crop Sciences Section. Starting in February 2023, Vipan will bring his considerable expertise in integrated weed management to bear on sustainable cropping systems, complementing our existing strength in weed science research, teaching and extension. Thanks to the search committee for their hard work in recruiting and supporting Vipan.

I’m also very pleased to announce that Enid Martinez, Professor in the Soil & Crop Sciences Section, has agreed to serve as a SIPS Leader for Diversity and Inclusion (LDI). Enid will join our other LDI, Tom Silva, representing the school on the CALS Diversity and Inclusion Committee. Enid and Tom will work alongside Chelsea Specht, the SIPS Associate Director for Diversity and Inclusion, and the SIPS DI Council. Thanks, Enid for taking on this important role.


Over the last month or so there has been great momentum associated with the CALS transdisciplinary Moonshot faculty hiring initiative. Ideas and discussions have emerged from two community moonshot events in October, sets of moonshot posters displayed in four locations on the Ithaca and Geneva campuses, and from numerous emails, meetings, and hallway conversations. Currently, there are at least five SIPS-centric moonshots brewing, as well as SIPS positions included in multiple proposals centered in other CALS departments. It’s been very gratifying and exciting to see faculty and students from different SIPS sections working together to develop innovative cohorts around creative transdisciplinary themes and I’m very much looking forward to seeing how these mature over the next month. Special thanks to all the PIs/co-PIs for taking the lead and to Rebecca Nelson, the SIPS Associate Director for Research, for providing critical coordination and guidance.

Plant Science Building Renovation:

I’m excited to report that we received a very generous commitment from Dr. Barry Richter (CALS ’72) and Dr. Joan Richter (HumEc ’73) in support of our Plant Science Building renovation project. When the project is complete, we will name the building lobby in their honor. Although Barry and Joan did not study Plant Sciences while at Cornell, they both have connections to our building from their time at Cornell that made this gift a very special one for them. We look forward to celebrating the Richter’s generosity once our renovation is complete.


As we head towards the end of the year, I’d like to highlight Cornell University’s Long Island Horticultural Research and Extension Center (LIHREC), which is marking its 100th anniversary. LIHREC provides critical support to the agricultural industries on Long Island and throughout New York. Many congratulations LIHREC researchers, extension experts and staff! I’ve included a couple of links that provide an overview of the scope and impact: video news

SIPS community:  

PLEASE remember to recognize people in the SIPS community (faculty, students and staff) who have gone out of their way to enhance our School and support each other.  The Kudos notes are a lovely way to do this: all you have to do is complete the brief form here, which takes 2 minutes at most. Receiving one can make somebody’s day and affirms our mutual support.

Social Events:

SIPS Holiday Celebration: It’s back!! Save the slot in your calendars for the party of the year:  December 7th 3:00 – 5:00 pm in the Statler Ballroom.

We’re already well into the World Cup (the other football!). To further community engagement and world peace, I’m planning to show as many of the games as possible live in the conference room next to my office (133 Plant Science Building) when there aren’t meeting reservations, including weekends. All are welcome.

September 25, 2022

Here we are at the end of September: it seems remarkable that we are already five weeks into the semester and the fall colors are starting to show. It’s been wonderful to see the hallways, classrooms, labs, field research centers and meeting rooms filling with people again after such a long period of distancing, and the increase in energy is palpable. We have new cohorts of undergraduate, graduate and MPS students, faculty teaching exciting new courses for the first time, new research projects underway or being planned, and several exciting opportunities that I’d like to highlight:

Moonshots: CALS has launched a new college-wide faculty hiring initiative, based on transdisciplinary approaches to addressing complex real-world problems. Five Moonshot categories have been identified: Agriculture/food systems; Basic Biology; Synthetic Biology; Climate amelioration; Wild Card.  These resonate strongly with the research, teaching and extension activities of SIPS and there is obvious connectivity with the SIPS strategic plan and the associated four Grand Challenges (Sustainable Crop Production and Food Security; Plants and Ecosystem Health; Plant Production and Ecosystem Services in Urban/Peri-urban Environments; and  Biodiversity, Evolution, and Molecular Mechanisms). A key feature of this cohort hire will be strategic coordination with other departments/units CALS, and more details will be released by the college soon.

2030 Project: Big Ideas: There is an exciting and important opportunity for SIPS researchers to engage with the 2030 Project, a campus-wide investment to address challenges associated with climate change, including transforming food systems, innovating energy solutions, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, promoting environmental justice and shaping economic and policy decisions. There has been a call for “Big Ideas” and I anticipate that SIPS will be a key partner and leader.

There will be much activity around both Moonshots and Big Ideas in the near future, and I’ll keep you up to speed with new developments, but a critical first step will be for you to bring your innovative ideas forward and to start community discussions. Please reach out to your colleagues, section chairs and Associate Directors and feel free to contact me and rjn7 [at] (Rebecca Nelson) (Assoc. Director of Research for SIPS) such that we can support teams/groups to develop proposals. This is an exciting time I’m looking forward to seeing creative ideas emerge that will allow us to take advantage of these opportunities.

Plant Science Building Renovations: The project has either been sent out to bid, or this is imminent. Temporary partitions have been installed to block off vacated areas in the west side of the Plant Science Building. These partitions accommodate emergency and service access but are designed to prevent general access. Attached to the partitions are renderings of how the spaces may look after Phase 1, and I encourage you to take a look if you are passing.

AgriTech: I’ve been allocated touch down office space on the AgriTech campus (thank you Jan Nyrop!) and will be visiting on regular basis. To all the SIPS-ites up in Geneva, please let me know if you’d like to chat when I’m next on campus. I’ve had a great time on my last visits and look forward to getting to know you all.

SIPS community:  As I’ve learnt more about the inner workings of SIPS, I’m frequently reminded what a wonderful, generous community we have. PLEASE remember to recognize people in the SIPS community (faculty, students and staff) who have gone out of their way to enhance our School and support each other.  The Kudos notes are a lovely way to do this: all you have to do is complete the brief form here, which takes 2 minutes at most. Receiving one can make somebody’s day and affirms our mutual support.

Lastly, I had the pleasure the other week of attending the inauguration of the Tsujimoto Family Plaza, in front of the Mann Library, and was fortunate enough to meet members of the family. Their story is inspiring and can be found here.

August 22, 2022

I’m very pleased to announce that all four SIPS associate directors (AD) have now been recruited.

I have already been inspired by conversations with Chelsea, Awais, Rebecca and Kathie related to the future growth and enrichment of SIPS. They each have great experience and an impressive track record in their area of focus, reflected in their titles, but they also have a cross-cutting breadth of knowledge of our research, teaching, extension, and in many other facets of SIPS. The ADs have been appointed for one-year terms, starting on September 1st, and they will join the chairs of the five SIPS sections in forming the SIPS senior leadership team.

Responsibilities of the Associate Directors:

  • Guide community conversations around their appointed positions and develop a broad and bold vision for SIPS in the areas of DEI, Extension and Outreach, Research, and Teaching. What are our strengths? What are our aspirations? Do we have any areas that need reinforcing, or that might benefit from greater public awareness? How should we best communicate our identity and goals?  To address these and other questions there will be broad community engagement, and transparency. Above all, they will want to hear your ideas, needs and perspectives so that this visioning process has broad input from across the school.
  • Oversee specific operations in SIPS related to new resources for research, student recruitment and support, and education. I will be announcing some details of these resources at upcoming faculty meetings and in SIPS-wide townhall meetings.
  • Contribute to discussion about the structure of SIPS and how it can best serve our students, faculty and staff, bringing the vision and aspirations of the school into the future.

I note that these AD positions will supplement and enhance the existing organizational infrastructure of SIPS and they will not displace any current operations.

I look forward to working with Chelsea, Awais, Rebecca and Kathie and thank them for their willingness to take on these responsibilities.

August 14, 2022

It’s been a fascinating and rewarding couple of weeks as I start my term as SIPS director, and thanks to all those who came to say hello, or sent emails with wishes of welcome. In addition to many in-person meetings and impromptu chats in the halls, two of the highlights of the last week were a tour of the various farm locations of the Cornell Agriculture Experiment Station (including the wonderful Dilmun Hill student farm, as well as the sites in Freeville, McGowan Farm and Bluegrass Lane) and then yesterday’s Cornell AgriTech open house, which featured an amazing demonstration of digital crop imaging technologies and tours of the grape, apple and hemp collections. Thanks to everyone for the tours and giving up so much time and energy.

Clear and frequent communication will remain a high priority and this will come in many forms. It’s my hope to find time to meet with all faculty in person over the next semester or so, and I’ll be scheduling separate townhall meetings for faculty, staff and grad students, as well as meetings with groups in SIPS such as the DEI council. For all those up in Geneva, I will have some office space on the AgriTech campus and will be visiting regularly. I’ll also be sending out frequent email updates: sorry if some of you get these emails multiple times, but it’s impossible to capture the whole SIPS empire in a single list with no duplication.

Some updates on a few of topics:

SIPS structure: A number of people have reached out and asked about the organizational structure of the school. I’d like to re-emphasize there will be no immediate changes in the SIPS structure although, as I’ve highlighted in several presentations over the last few months, there is an intent to better integrate the school through the adoption of a new structure. As the new semester starts, the school will continue to operate as before to ensure continued smooth operation, but the leadership team of existing section chairs will be expanded in September to include several Associate Directors. These are existing SIPS faculty from both the Ithaca and Geneva campuses, who will each have a one-year appointment, and I hope to finalize their recruitment in the next couple of weeks. The senior leadership team will be tasked with leading discussions and reviewing and planning future SIPS activities, operations, and aspirations. Again, the goal is to restructure the school, but nothing will be done until there is has been a thoughtful and purposeful review of options and there is consensus that a viable modified organizational structure has been mapped out. I am committed to making this process transparent and to enabling everyone to have a voice. There will be many open group meetings, including the upcoming townhall meetings, but my door is open and I look forwarding to discussing this and hearing a spectrum of perspectives.

Plant Science Building Renovations: Thanks to all those who have relocated from the west side of the Plant Science Building to new labs and offices over the summer, for your good humor, patience and positivity. Thanks also to those who have helped coordinate the process. This first domino has fallen and Phase 1 of the renovation is underway!

  • Next week: Temporary partitions will be installed to block off vacated areas in the west side of the Plant Science Building. The west side entry to the building will be locked, but the partitions will be constructed to accommodate emergency and service access. Occupants of the building can expect changes in pedestrian circulation patterns.
  • This fall: Cornell Facilities and the architects are resolving final details in the building plans. We look forward to the project being sent out to bid sometime in the next few months.

Social activities: We’ve been experiencing various degrees of COVID-induced isolation since early 2020 and this has fragmented our community to significant degree. This summer it’s been great to see a rapidly growing enthusiasm for in-person professional and social events. Please send me your ideas for ways and excuses to get together. It turns out that pizza and beer/soda, coffee and cookies are key commodities that glue groups together and I’d love to hear suggestions for opportunities to meet. The organization of social events cannot rest on the shoulders of the staff, as they are already overstretched, but I’ve been looking into alternative ways to support this.

I’ve installed myself now in the director’s office in 135A Plant Science Building, in the SIPS administration suite, so please come by and say hi, or reach out with your news, ideas, suggestions and questions. If my door is open, come on in! If I’m not there, I may be in my lab office (331 Emerson Hall). If you’d like to reserve time to meet, please contact ct259 [at] (Cindy Twardokus), who wrangles my schedule.

August 1, 2022

Welcome Joss Rose, new SIPS Director!