SIPS Visioning Updates

Message from the SIPS Director: March 2023

Dear SIPS community,

  • It’s Moonshot time! After several months of deliberation, this week the CALS Dean announced the outcome of the CALS Moonshot interdisciplinary faculty hiring initiative. The great news is that there are five SIPS positions included among the proposals that CALS is supporting, which corresponds to 20% of the total!  Some of the moonshots listed in the Dean’s letter (see below) are relatively unchanged from the submitted proposals while in other cases, CALS leadership has combined or significantly modified the submission. Faculty leads for each of these moonshots will be working to clarify position descriptions and timelines.  More detailed information will be communicated as this process unfolds. Thanks to the many people who contributed their thoughts, energy and ideas to the development of all the SIPS moonshot proposals. Importantly, even those that were not selected have sparked ongoing discussions and collaborations. This has been a great success and a true community effort! 
  • In other exciting news, I’m pleased to announce that there are new spaces for grad students and faculty to interact formally and informally, both with glorious penthouse views!
    • SIPS Collaboration Space (1105 Bradfield Hall): This is a lovely meeting room with floor-to-ceiling windows and a view up Tower Road, which is available to all the SIPS community. Many thanks to faculty in the Soil and Crop Sciences section for contributing to the new AV system that has just been installed.
    • Graduate Student Collaboration Space (1102 Bradfield Hall): A very large room, with windows overlooking west campus and Cayuga Lake, has now been carpeted and partly furnished for the use of SIPS graduate students, as well as any other graduate students who are currently housed in Bradfield Hall. I’m very pleased that we have communal space at last for all our students to share.

These are great places for us to mix professionally and socially. Take the elevator to the 11th floor of Bradfield Hall and check them out!

  • On the subject of supporting our graduate students, as an institutional partner of the Equity in Graduate Education (EGE) Consortium, we have the opportunity for SIPS faculty, staff, and graduate students to participate in the Beyond Broadening Participation webinar series organized by the National Academies, Inclusive Graduate Education Network, and EGE Consortium.  Please note that the Beyond Broadening Participation webinar taking place on March 28 is for PhD students whereas the one taking place on March 29 is for faculty, administrators, and other professionals. These are space-limited virtual events, so if you would like to participate in one of these webinars, please register soon!
  • Kudos awards: One of the joys of my job is working with so many staff, faculty and students who consistently support each other. PLEASE remember to recognize people in our SIPS community who have gone out of their way to enhance our School. All you have to do is complete the brief form here. For ~1 minute of your time you can absolutely make someone’s day!

Thanks everyone as ever for all you do, and roll on Spring!



Message from the SIPS Director: January 26, 2023

I hope your semester is off to a successful and flying start. It’s wonderful to see the students back, classrooms full and SIPS operating in top gear- thanks as always to everyone for enabling things to operate so smoothly. Looking into the crystal ball there are many exciting activities and initiatives already lined up on the various Cornell campuses and I’d like to share a few of them here:

Plant Science Building Renovation

While you can’t yet hear the sound of sledgehammers echoing in the Plant Science Building, wheels are in fact turning. We are currently in the Bid Phase, which is currently projected to span January-March. Contracting will take place March-May and construction is projected to start in June. Fingers crossed!


Some of you will have seen the update from the dean about the CALS Moonshot interdisciplinary faculty hiring initiative. For those who did not, a total of 26 proposals were submitted, of which SIPS was a partner in 16!  Magdalen has posted succinct summaries of the SIPS-related moonshots.

This is a remarkable testament to both the extraordinary effort that was invested in developing the proposal in such a short time, but also the impact and breadth of research, teaching and extension in the college. The moonshot ideas are now being reviewed by CALS leadership and I look forward to sharing the outcome with you in the next month or two.

SIPS reorganization proposal

The Moonshot process highlighted the phenomenal potential of the SIPS community to collaborate and innovate across traditional section-based boundaries, centered around daunting global problems, such as climate change, food security, environmental stability. Such issues, which are also encapsulated in the SIPS Strategic Plant and Grand Challenges, will increasingly drive research funding, the motivations of the next generation of the brightest scientists who we want to recruit, and the demands of students for education, training, and career development. We live in a high dynamic time and it’s critical that we are thoughtful and bold as we set new goals and take advantage of new opportunities. As all biologists know, we must continue to evolve and adapt to our environment in order to thrive and grow.

Over the last few months there have been a tremendous number of discussions about the evolution of SIPS, including external stakeholders and partners at Cornell and beyond. These have addressed what we value, how we could and should retain our communities, the profound importance of disciplinary excellence, and the need to continue the trajectory of enhanced interaction and mutual support that was initiated upon the foundation of the school, almost 9 years ago.

Next week I will be presenting a proposal for a revised SIPS organizational structure that I think is forward-thinking, exciting, and sustainable, in that it highlights the values and identities of our five historic disciplines and retains the intimacy of the smaller communities, while strengthening our synergies and interconnections 

  • Feb 1st:  I have scheduled 30-minute in-person/ Zoom presentations with the faculty in each section and with administrative staff (6 meetings all on one day!)
  • Feb 2nd:  I will be in Geneva to hold a meeting with faculty on the AgriTech campus.

Separate meetings will be held with students, postdocs, and other members of SIPS. The faculty and staff will receive Zoom invitations shortly.  If you can’t attend the meeting in the time slot for your section, please reach out and we’ll make alternative arrangements.

I anticipate a critical phase for feedback and discussion in the coming months as we co-create and solidify an organizational structure together, that also allows administrative staff to provide effective support while they themselves are supported. Your engagement is very important and I want to make sure that everyone has a voice.  This is an exciting time!

SIPS community:  

In the coming months I will be announcing new spaces for grad students and faculty to interact formally and informally, and I intend to ramp up the frequency of opportunities to mix professionally and socially. More details coming soon.

Message from the SIPS Director: December 22, 2022

I’m writing this from my office in the, currently very peaceful, Plant Science Building, watching the snow fall on the Ag quad, feeling festive and wondering how long it’s going to take me to dig my car out of the Tower Road parking lot this evening.

I’m also reflecting on a remarkable semester. This has been my first as Director of SIPS and it’s been a great pleasure getting to know many of you over the last few months. I have a new appreciation of the astonishing size and complexity of the school, but especially its impact. What you do is important and recognized within CALS and the broader Cornell universe, and also among the many life science and agricultural communities with which we collectively intersect. SIPS has a reputation to be proud of and one that we will contribute to build.

This was illustrated by the recent flurry of activity around the Moonshot faculty cohort hires; an experiment in promoting transdisciplinary interactions and conversations. Many of you participated in the two Moonshot launch community meetings, in the moonshot posters that were posted on the Ithaca and AgriTech campuses, and in the numerous individual and group conversations.

The outcome of all this has been that SIPS is wired into 16 (!!) moonshot proposals. This by itself is remarkable, but equally eye-opening is that these moonshots involve collaborations with 14 out of the 16 other departments in CALS, as well as the Dyson school!  Excitingly, most of the moonshots involved participants from different SIPS sections working together to think deeply about future research, teaching and extension initiatives, and about our engagement with diverse communities. This is deeply impressive and a huge thank you to all those who took the lead in, and supported, these proposals!

There have been many so many other activities that highlight our strengths as a school, but nobody reads emails for longer than 45 seconds, so I’ll wrap up by saying that I’m looking forward to new adventures, initiatives, partnerships and successes in SIPS in 2023.

Congratulations on your many successes across the board, thank you for all you do and have a peaceful and rejuvenating holiday season.

Warm wishes,


Message from the SIPS Director: 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.

Message from the SIPS Director: 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!