Courtesy of Cornell University.

Four faculty members who took on new leadership positions this fall.

August 31, 2022

Cornell’s Academic Departments Have New Faculty Leaders

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The process of being nominated to a faculty leadership position is not an easy one, as recommendations by other faculty members and an appointment by the Dean of the College are required. Some larger programs also have an interview process and a final presentation to decide who will take on the role. 

The new department chairs and program directors were informed of their acceptance by the end of the Spring semester to give them time to transition. Faculty started their term on July 1, and will serve for at least three years.

Prof. Linda Nicholson, molecular biology and genetics, the new Hays and James M. Clark Director of the Office of Undergraduate Biology in the Colleges of Arts and Sciences and Agriculture and Life Sciences, knew immediately that she wanted to take on this position.

“The Office of Undergraduate Biology aligns beautifully with so many of my passions around teaching and supporting students, mentoring students and helping to make their experience at Cornell a positive one, so that was the main draw for me,” Nicholson said.

Nicholson’s predecessor, Prof. Cole Gilbert, entomology, left a document that outlined all of the responsibilities she would be taking over. She also feels supported by all of her colleagues in the department. 

“It’s been a learning curve for me, but it’s been a joy,” Nicholson said. “Even when we are faced with challenges, it’s such a synergistic team and everybody helps each other out. They’ve been very generous in helping me come up to speed on things.”

Nicholson said she wants to bring new ideas to the position and give students more support. 

“We are doing some specific things that align with this vision of shifting the culture from competitive to collaborative in terms of students’ learning and I’m really excited about that,” Nicholson said. 

Prof. Deborah Starr, near eastern studies, is the new department chair of her department and said she aspires to create a more interactive environment, coming out of the recent virtual landscape due to COVID-19. The department plans to have a team-building event for graduate students this semester, as well as bring in alumni speakers to talk to undergraduates about possible careers in the field. 

“One of the biggest challenges right now is that the last two years have been very isolating for students and faculty alike,” Starr said. “Planning in-person events where everyone is comfortable and rebuilding that sense of community is a really important starting point for my term as chair.”

H. Stanley Krusen Professor of World Religions Chiara Formichi, religious studies, is the new director of religious studies at Cornell. She is starting a new speaker series this September, and is interested in creating more programs for undergraduate engagement. 

“It’s exciting to be in a place where you decide what happens,” said Formichi. “There is a sense of duty combined with the desire to see if you can try to make something happen.”