October 27, 2013

Cornell’s Atkinson Center Receives $12-Million Gift

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David Atkinson ’60 and Patricia Atkinson have donated $12 million to Cornell’s Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, which aims to develop interdisciplinary methods to promote sustainability.

“We believe Cornell, with its strength in a broad array of disciplines, including agriculture science, is uniquely well positioned to address sustainability issues and be the leading university globally in this field,” David Atkinson said in a University press release. “Given the center’s remarkable success, we are happy to provide additional support.”

The donation, which Cornell announced to the public Tuesday, will promote the continual growth of the center’s leadership team and provide endowments to its three faculty directors. The professors will in turn use the money to further the center’s research in their respective fields, according to a University press release.

The donation coincides with the center’s recent restructuring, which included the appointment of Alderperson Graham Kerslick (D-4th Ward) as its new executive director, The Sun previously reported.

According to Dr. Helene Schember, outgoing executive director of the center, Kerslick will help execute the center’s recently announced strategic plan, an outline of the center’s goals through 2017 that involves increased collaboration with external organizations with similar aspirations.

“Collaboration with other organizations — community, private sector, government, non-profit and philanthropic — is essential to unleash our collective power for broader, more timely and durable impact,” Kerslick said in an Oct. 22 Sun article.

Kerslick — who has worked as associate director of several Cornell research centers — aims to have established at least two strategic, application-oriented collaborations with external partners by 2017.

The center itself — which bears Atkinson’s name due to an $80 million donation made in 2010 — was founded in 2008 by the Office of the Provost for the purpose of linking studies in economic development, energy and the environment to further sustainability research, according to the center’s website.

These categories constitute the center’s three main research groups, which collectively consist of more than 360 researchers from 11 different Cornell schools and 76 of its departments.

“It’s really important to engage the full range of expertise at Cornell to solve the problems in sustainability research,” Kerslick said in an Oct. 22 Sun article. “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.”

The center’s projects in the five years since its creation have ranged from developing environmentally friendly insect control to assessing mycotoxin exposure in pregnant Zimbabwean women. Part of the center’s strategic plan is to establish “constancy of purpose” and be able to “tackle critical new problems as they emerge,” according to the center’s strategic plan.

The Atkinson Center receives most of its funding externally from both individuals and organizations, and it has ongoing collaborations with organizations such as Oxfam, the Nature Conservancy and CARE, according to the center’s website.