$12M gift bolsters Atkinson Center leadership

Patricia and David Atkinson
Jason Koski/University Photography
Patricia and David Atkinson at the 2010 announcement of their $80 million gift to name the David. R. Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future.

Advancing their support of cutting-edge sustainability research, David ’60 and Patricia Atkinson have given $12 million to enhance the leadership of the David R. Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, the university announced Oct. 22.

“Dave and Pat Atkinson’s new gift expands their already extraordinary support for the Atkinson Center and will ensure our ability to recruit and retain exceptional leaders for the center in perpetuity. We are grateful for everything they have done to put sustainability at the forefront at Cornell, and to help our faculty, staff and students address some of the most important challenges facing humanity,” said President David Skorton.

The gift will be used to fully endow the center’s directorship, currently held by Frank DiSalvo, the John A. Newman Professor of Physical Science, and to partially endow the center’s three faculty director positions in energy, environment and economic development, currently held by Todd Cowen, professor of civil and environmental engineering; Alex Travis, associate professor of reproductive biology at the Baker Institute for Animal Health; and Wendy Wolford, associate professor of development sociology, respectively.

“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,” said David Atkinson. “Given the center’s remarkable success, we are happy to provide additional support.”

The Atkinsons hope to inspire other donors with a strong interest in sustainability to help fund the three faculty positions. The challenge is to raise $3 million for each position. Donors who endow any of the three faculty directorships with gifts of $2 million will be matched with an additional $1 million from the Atkinsons. The faculty directors will play an increasingly critical role in the implementation of the center’s new strategic plan, which is focused on addressing urgent and complex world challenges by leveraging Cornell sustainability research to form partnerships with outside companies, people and organizations to quickly press research into action.

The Atkinson Center nurtures interdisciplinary collaboration and problem solving through targeted programs and activities, including competitive seed grants for faculty investigating sustainability issues. Currently, 363 faculty members are Atkinson Center Faculty Fellows. Their research cuts across the traditional boundaries of energy, the environment and economic development. To date, more than 60 interdisciplinary projects have ranged from small-scale wind turbines for urban areas to barrier reef studies and the development of environmentally friendly pest control systems.

Beyond the borders of campus, the center collaborates with such groups as Oxfam, The Nature Conservancy and CARE. In 2011, funding from the Atkinsons helped to create the CARE-Cornell partnership, which focuses on improving sustainable food systems in the developing world.

Longtime supporters of the university, the Atkinsons committed $80 million to endow and name the Atkinson Center in 2010, following initial seed funding of $3 million in 2007. They also sponsor the Atkinson Forum in American Studies, which brings individuals and groups to campus to enrich the curriculum of the American Studies Program and the cultural life of the university.

David Atkinson, a 1960 graduate of Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, retired in 2002 as a general partner of the investment counseling firm Miller, Anderson and Sherrerd LLP, and then founded Atkinson & Co., an investment management company in Princeton, N.J. He continues to lead that firm.

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