SIPS Strategic Plan

Science-based innovation for a changing world


Leveraging fundamental insights to sustain natural and agroecosystems in a changing climate, through resilient plants, sustainably managed, serving the world


To address global challenges of food security, environmental conservation, biodiversity, and human health in a changing climate.


Our values align with those of the College of Agriculture & Life Sciences and Cornell University which are:

  • Purposeful Discovery
  • Free and Open Inquiry and Expression
  • A Community of Belonging
  • Exploration across Boundaries
  • Changing Lives through Public Engagement
  • Respect for the Natural Environment


  • Source: The community goals and interconnected challenges are derived from the school-wide strategic planning survey (fall 2020).
  • Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) within the School are critical to our ability to effectively understand and address global challenges. We highlight their significance by listing them specifically, along with associated objectives.
  • Several overarching goals, integral to our success, were identified during the fall 2020 SIPS-wide strategic planning survey and are foundational to our plan.
    • Academic excellence and quality educational experience for our students
    • Interconnectedness of our research, teaching, and extension/outreach
    • Infrastructure and expertise for data acquisition, management, analysis and dissemination
    • Effective communication of our research and activities to diverse stakeholders
    • A culture that fosters innovation and collaboration

SIPS Strategic Plan

Plants, their ecosystems, the soils in which they grow, and their associated microbes, are foundational to the health of our planet, and therefore to the health of humanity. In the coming decade, our global community will be increasingly challenged by a changing climate and pressures on our natural, as well as food and agricultural, ecosystems. SIPS students, staff and faculty have identified community goals and grand challenges with accompanying objectives aimed at local and global needs. Many of the SIPS activities are, by design, multi-disciplinary and include inputs and collaborations with other life science disciplines, as well as those from social, physical, and computer sciences, engineering, and the humanities. Current connections will be strengthened, and new bridges built through this strategic plan.

Embodying a welcoming and inclusive community

Trust and appreciation of diverse experiences and perspectives are necessary to effectively develop and communicate solutions to global challenges. This requires the creation and support of a culture in which everyone has the opportunity to participate, lead, and grow.

  • Increase diversity in, and equity and inclusion for, SIPS undergraduate and graduate student bodies, staff and faculty
    • Empower the SIPS Diversity and Inclusion committee to identify, define, and carry out strategic initiatives
    • Identify opportunities to expand the diversity of our faculty in concert with the CALS Associate Dean for Diversity & Inclusion
    • Engage leaders at every level in educational opportunities to enhance DEI awareness, commitment, and engagement.
    • Implement accessible and inclusive curricula, classrooms and research infrastructure
    • Ensure diverse applicant pools for graduate programs through strong connections to inclusive institutions and organizations, reduced financial and administrative barriers, and participation in Diversity Preview Weekend
    • Translate research findings for the benefit of traditionally under-served stakeholders
  • Foster a climate of interaction, cooperation, and respect
    • Enhance communication and networking among sections and among faculty, staff, and students
    • Promote training at all levels in effective communication, leadership, and teamwork
    • Build a strong administrative, technical and academic staff to support the mission of SIPS

Grand Challenges

1. Sustainable crop production and food security

Safeguarding future food security for all with sustainably managed nutritious crops in diverse production systems, under a changing climate, with minimal loss to weeds and pathogens

  • Improve crop yields and nutrition
    • Leverage our knowledge of genetic diversity and plant physiology for crop plant improvement
    • Reduce crop losses through understanding of pathogen biology, plant resistance, and weed ecology
    • Enhance plant health with microbiome management and optimized growing conditions
  • Develop strategies for reduced-input crop production
    • Manage soil health for nutrient retention and beneficial water relations
    • Optimize cropping systems for diverse production scales and types (organic, conventional, perennial, annual)
  • Develop and apply digital technologies for climate responsive precision management of agricultural systems (Digital Agriculture)
    • Build systems for plant and soil health monitoring at multiple scales using sensing technologies
    • Create and deploy data analysis pipelines and decision support tools

2. Plants and ecosystem health

Integrating climate change mitigation and adaptation to secure ecosystem and human health and foster climate justice in diverse environments

  • Climate-change mitigation through plant and ecosystem management
    • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture through understanding and management of soil health, nutrient cycles, and soil microbiology
    • Remove atmospheric carbon dioxide using cropping systems, plant breeding, plant/microbe bioengineering, and carbon sequestration
    • Recycle agricultural, food, and human wastes as soil amendments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (circular economy)
    • Discover new opportunities for climate change mitigation via advances in remote sensing and geospatial applications
  • Adaptation to climate change through innovative plant and ecosystem science
    • Describe and model climate impacts on plant and microbe biodiversity
    • Identify and manage climate-exacerbated weeds and pathogens
    • Detect and mitigate plant responses to climate stress with plant breeding and bioengineering of sensor plants and microbes (synthetic biology)
    • Build resilient landscapes for climate-vulnerable populations through diversified cropping systems and integrated plant, soil and ecosystem science

3. Plant production and ecosystem services in urban/peri-urban environments

Enhancing food access and ecosystem services for equitable human and ecosystem health in high population areas

Identify how the built environment can contribute to a more sustainable and climate resilient world for urban populations across the economic spectrum
  • Develop and sustain green spaces in urban/peri-urban areas encompassing parks, community gardens, botanic gardens, turf, and green infrastructure
  • Improve strategies to select and maintain trees and other plants in urban environments
  • Monitor and promote soil health and remediation in developed landscapes
  • Enhance and promote the ecosystem services of built environments such as erosion and flood control, habitat for wildlife, and carbon storage
  • Promote the human wellness benefits of greenspaces
Foster sustainable urban agriculture practices that contribute to human health, economic viability, and resilient, equitable food systems
  • Facilitate the vitality of diverse and effective urban agriculture practices in soil, raised beds, rooftop gardens, and protected environments
  • Improve the sustainability and economic viability of production of high nutrient density food in protected and controlled environments such as high tunnels, greenhouses, rooftop, and vertical farms (Controlled Environment Agriculture)

4. Biodiversity, evolution, and molecular mechanisms

Generating and harnessing fundamental knowledge of plants, their associated microbes, and their relationships with the environment

  • Gain insights into evolution and adaptation of plants and associated microbes
    • Define and model the evolutionary history and trajectory of plants across a broad range of spatiotemporal scales
    • Determine the developmental and environmental factors that drive adaptation of plants and plant-associated microbes
  • Characterize organismal and molecular diversity of plants and plant-associated microbes in natural and agricultural ecosystems
    • Elucidate processes underlying plant development, physiology, environmental responses and nutrition
    • Discover mechanisms governing plant-environment and plant-microbe interactions that include both beneficial and pathogenic microbes
    • Characterize and model the diverse relationships between plant systems, soil biogeochemistry and nutrient cycling, and their impact on climate
  • Translate complex plant and microbial systems to drive broadly beneficial biotechnological innovation
    • Leverage and integrate diverse data sets to model and predictively modulate biological processes
    • Bioengineer plants and their microbes with novel biological properties, and generate new plant-based products and synthetic communities (synthetic biology)