Cornell named its two newest Andrew Dickson White Professors-at-Large on Oct. 21, bringing distinguished professors from across the globe to the University.
Prof. May Berenbaum Ph.D. ’80, entomology, University of Illinois, and Prof. Ellen Rothenberg, biology and biological engineering, California Institute of Technology, will serve six-year terms as the two picks.
Andrew Dickson White — the first president of Cornell — proposed a program to host distinguished professors from across the globe during his time at the University. In 1965, the University’s Board of Trustees approved a plan “to revive the office of non-resident professor by appointing as Andrew D. White Professors-at-Large a group of individuals, from both America and abroad, who have achieved high international distinction.”
In joining the A.D. White Professors-at-Large, Berenbaum and Rothenberg become part of 19 other distinguished scholars and intellectuals currently part of the program. The University will sponsor two trips for these professors to visit campus throughout their terms, including for lectures and symposia. Both Berenbaum and Rothenberg will be hosted by two Cornell faculty members, who will organize their trips to the University.
Berenbaum’s faculty hosts are Prof. Anurag Agrawal, ecology and evolutionary biology, and Prof. Jennifer Thaler, entomology, who both teach in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Rothenberg’s faculty hosts are Gary Koretzky, vice provost for academic integration and professor in the department of medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine, and Prof. Brian Rudd, microbiology and immunology.
According to Agrawal, Berenbaum is considered one of the most influential and accomplished entomologists of the past several decades, describing her as an “iconic scholar.” In 2014, she was awarded the National Medal of Science — the nation’s highest scientific honor — by President Barack Obama.
Berenbaum’s research has shed light on the chemical mechanisms that dictate interactions between insects and their host plants. She has applied this research to develop sustainable practices for management of agricultural and natural communities. Berenbaum served as chair of the Committee on the Future of Pesticides in U.S. Agriculture in 2000, and was on the Committee on the Status of Pollinators in North America in 2007.
Berenbaum has also dedicated much of her career to scientific education and literacy. She has written six books and many magazine articles detailing her knowledge of insects for the general public. In 2019, Berenbaum was named editor in chief of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences — the journal run by the National Academy of Sciences, where she has been a member since 1994.
Thaler commented on Berenbaum’s mentorship to young students, describing an anecdote from when she met with Berenbaum while in high school.
“She actually met with me when I was a high school student, because I had an interest in entomology,” Thaler said. “That’s the last thing a National Academy member has time for, but she made it happen.”
Having earned her Ph.D. from Cornell in 1980, Berenbaum is an alumna. Agrawal is excited for her return to the University.
“It’s a really wonderful reciprocity,” Agrawal said. “She considers Cornell an alma mater and we consider her one of our greatest products.”
Rothenberg studies gene regulation and development of T lymphocytes, the transcriptional networks underlying T-cell development and signaling, and gene networks that control hematopoietic cell fates.
At Caltech, Rothenberg was named Albert Billings Ruddock Professor in 2007 and earned the title of distinguished professor in 2021. She was awarded nine teaching awards while at the university, including the Richard P. Feynman Prize for Excellence in Teaching.
Koretzky and Rudd cited Rothenberg’s commitment to teaching as one of the main reasons they wanted her to join the A.D. White professorship program.
“She’s an amazing scientist, but really importantly, for the A.D. White Professor-at-Large program, she really likes teaching,” Koretzky said. “She’s interested in bridging disciplines, so we thought she would be perfect.”
“She’s one of those rare individuals that is both a leader in research but also a dedicated educator and teacher,” Rudd added.
Among Rothenberg’s other accomplishments are being named a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and member of the National Academy of Sciences.
She was also selected for the inaugural class of distinguished fellows of the American Association of Immunologists and has served on editorial boards, American Association of Immunologists committees and grant review panels for the National Institute of Health and other organizations.
“It’s very infectious to be around her because she’s so passionate about biology, and curious about everyone’s research,” Rudd said. “I think she captures what we all are looking for in the A.D. White professorship, somebody who really wants to come in and get involved in the community.”
Before Berenbaum and Rothenberg, the last Professors-at-Large named were Dawn Upshaw, an internationally-acclaimed soprano; Oskar Eustis, artistic director of The Public Theater since 2005; and James Balog, founder of the Extreme Ice Survey and Earth Vision Institute. All three professors were named in 2020. Another notable member of this program was Toni Morrison M.A. ’55, who served as a Professor-at-Large from 1997 to 2003.