Provost Michael Kotlikoff has appointed Katherine McComas, Ph.D. ’00, professor of communication in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, vice provost for engagement and land-grant affairs, effective July 1.
McComas succeeds Judy Appleton, who is completing a five-year term as vice provost.
As professor of communication at CALS, McComas studies how people communicate about science, health and the environment and, in particular, about the influence of trust and fairness on that process. She currently focuses on community engagement in environmental decision-making and communication about zoonotic and infectious disease in the context of climate change.
“Katherine McComas has demonstrated years of commitment to engaged learning in the context of her own teaching and outreach,” Kotlikoff said. “This background, her focus on public engagement and communication, and her comprehensive knowledge of Cornell will serve her well in this position. In addition, she has a deep commitment to working collaboratively with colleagues at the State University of New York and throughout New York state to ensure that resources are enhancing the contract colleges in the most responsible way.”
Kotlikoff continued: “I also want to thank Judy Appleton for successfully leading Cornell’s public engagement mission for the past five years and for her dedication to this broad portfolio and its support of our core mission. It has been an extraordinary pleasure and honor to work with Professor Appleton and to watch her build an effective engagement program at Cornell.”
As vice provost, McComas will serve as academic lead for the universitywide Engaged Cornell initiative, advocate for Cornell’s role as the land-grant university for New York state, monitor and collaborate on responses to the governor’s initiatives in higher education and economic development, and represent the university’s four contract colleges in dealings with SUNY.
Additionally, McComas will oversee Cornell’s ROTC program (along with other broad support of Cornell’s military community), with a focus on admissions and inclusion across campus; the university’s Office of Engagement Initiatives (including oversight of Engaged Cornell); and the Cornell Prison Education Program. She will chair and participate in search committees and co-chair or charge additional public engagement committees, including the Public and Global Working Group, the Public Engagement Council, the Extension and Outreach Leadership Group, and the K-12 Working Group.
“I am both honored and thrilled to take on this new position,” McComas said. “As a longtime member of Cornell – first as a graduate student and then as a faculty member – I have ‘grown up’ valuing Cornell’s land-grant mission and embracing its ‘knowledge with a public purpose’ ethos. I look forward to playing a larger role in supporting this mission, representing Cornell in relation to SUNY and the state government, and helping to communicate the value of Cornell to New York state and beyond.”
McComas noted that Cornell’s public engagement initiatives go hand in hand with its land-grant mission, ultimately broadening the university’s impact on people’s lives.
“Having witnessed the transformative impact of engaged learning on students, members of the public, and faculty and staff who partake in it, I am eager to build on the great work that is being done already, support efforts to increase the opportunities for participation, and ensure the sustained impact of these programs,” McComas said.
McComas served as chair of the Department of Communication from 2013-17; she also is a faculty fellow with the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future.
She graduated from the University of Missouri, Columbia, in 1990 with degrees in French and advertising; she received her M.A. in international relations and communications from Boston University in 1994; and she completed her Ph.D. in communication from Cornell in 2000. She joined Cornell’s Department of Communication in 2003 as an assistant professor.