October 21, 2013

Graham Kerslick (D-4th) to Direct Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future

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By EMMA IANNI

Alderperson Graham Kerslick (D-4th Ward), an energy frontier researcher, joined the David R. Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future Monday as its new executive director.

Kerslick has been the associate director for a number of research centers here at Cornell since 2001, including the Nanotechnology Center, which involved partnerships with five universities around the country. More recently, he has been the associate director of two research centers at Cornell: the Energy Materials Center and the Center of the Microenvironment and Metastasis.

The Atkinson Center was founded five years ago to help build a more sustainable world by developing new knowledge and technologies in energy, the environment and economic development, according to the Atkinson Center’s website.

Sun File Photo

Kerslick said the Atkinson Center is different from other research centers he has worked at because “the funding comes from donations and other sources, and its area of research is much broader.”

“During these five years, the center really focused on bringing together the faculty members at Cornell around these very compelling global problems in sustainability. Now the center is really ready to move into stage two: that focuses on the partnering of Atkinson center and external groups so that we can actually make an impact on the world,“ said Dr. Helene Schember, the outgoing executive director of the center.

In the upcoming years, the Atkinson center will develop a new strategic plan under Kerslick’s supervision, aiming to develop sustainable solutions for global problems and focus on environmental aspects such as sustainable agriculture, energy transitions and sustainable communities, according to Schember.

The new strategic plan is based on the idea that “technological breakthroughs and best practices alone cannot deliver a sustainable future. Collaboration with other organizations — community, private sector, government, nonprofit and philanthropic — is essential to unleash our collective power for broader, more timely and durable impact,“ according to the Atkinson Center’s website. The center will engage with partners with common aspirations to identify real-world problems and will use their multidisciplinary expertise to solve them.

As the new executive director, Kerslick will be instrumental in uniting staff to coordinate communications and achieve these goals, Schember said.

“Kerslick is highly organized, outgoing and broad in his knowledge. … There are 365 faculty from over 70 departments associated with the center, so that’s a big task,” Prof. Francis DiSalvo, chemistry, and director of the Atkinson Center, said.

Schember also noted the importance of Kerslick’s position in successfully developing the new strategic plan.

“The position is what you would call a focal point for the center and requires the executive director to be someone who helps all of the leadership team and who brings his abilities to convene around something that needs to be addressed in a sustainability area. So there is an aspect that is a convening aspect complemented by a nurturing part,” Schember said.

Kerslick said he will ensure a number of goals — such as expanding the successful Academic Venture Fund to $1 million annually and develop two or more enduring strategic collaborations with external partners for interdisciplinary research and practical application — are achieved before 2017 with him as executive director. Kerslick also said he looks forward to working with people from different departments and backgrounds, since the center requires contribution from various fields of studies to solve sustainability issues not only in their scientific aspects but also in the social ones.

“[The Atkinson Center] has already brought together over 360 faculty members at Cornell. It’s really important to engage the full range of expertise at Cornell to solve the problems in sustainability research,” Kerslick said. “This involves a long term commitment to collaboration across campus and beyond, and I’m looking forward to working to my new colleagues on the challenges ahead.”

Lauren Chambliss, communications director for the Atkinson Center, said Kerslick’s engagement in the community outside of Cornell will be key in the realization of the center’s plans for the upcoming years.

“I’m personally excited to work with Graham, because in addition to his high-level administrative expertise, he also brings experience with community building,” Chambliss said.

Chambliss said Kerslick has served on various Ithaca community boards since the 1980s, adding that this experience will be “valuable” in the Atkinson Center development as it aims to unite scholars, social scientists and engineers to identify solutions and approaches to sustainability challenges.

“With our new strategic plan, we want to connect more with external partners. Graham has experience there too. … Graham brings a rich resume to help the center with its next ambitious phase of growth,” Chambliss said.

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