Watkins named Cornell Cooperative Extension director

Christopher Watkins

Horticulture professor Christopher Watkins has been named director of Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE).

Formerly associate director of CCE, Watkins is appointed through Oct. 1, 2017, completing the term of former director Helene Dillard, who recently stepped down to become dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at the University of California, Davis.

“We are very fortunate to have someone of Chris’ caliber to seamlessly step into the directorship of CCE,” said Kathryn J. Boor, the Ronald P. Lynch Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS). “I am confident that Chris will position CCE for the future by integrating communication and education technologies with the traditional boots-on-the-ground approach that has characterized the legacy of CCE to date.”

“I am thrilled that Chris has accepted this position. The broad extension mission at Cornell will benefit from his strong leadership,” said Alan Mathios, the Rebecca Q. and James C. Morgan Dean of the College of Human Ecology. “With him as a partner, I look forward to furthering strong evidence-based extension efforts here on campus, sustaining our statewide nutrition education programs, and creating opportunities for students to engage with the extension mission. Together we can ensure that CCE continues its long history of supporting families and communities in New York state.”

As director, Watkins will run the diverse portfolio of programs of CCE, which maintains a presence in every county in New York as well as in New York City. It reaches citizens through outreach in food systems, natural resources, sustainable energy, 4-H youth development, nutrition, economic development and related subjects.

“As the primary provider of outreach for the Colleges of Agriculture and Life Sciences and Human Ecology to the citizens of New York, Cornell Cooperative Extension is a major component of realizing Cornell’s land-grant mission,” said Watkins. “As we confront familiar and new challenges to human health, agricultural production, youth development, community sustainability and economic growth, I look forward to working with the local and regional programs throughout the state, and my colleagues in CALS and Human Ecology, on the front lines of helping CCE associations to meet these needs.”

Watkins joined the Cornell faculty in 1994 as an associate professor of horticulture after more than a decade as a scientist in the Postharvest Science Group of the Horticulture and Food Research Institute in his native New Zealand. He was promoted to full professor in 2004, was named the Herman M. Cohn Professor of Postharvest Science in 2013 and has served as associate director of CCE since 2006.

Watkins has maintained an active research program on techniques that retain the flavor, texture and health-related compounds of fruits and vegetables after harvest. Throughout his career, Watkins has written more than 200 peer-reviewed research articles and extension publications. He serves as a resource to growers statewide through his extensive outreach activities. An internationally sought expert on fruit ripening and storage, he and a colleague wrote a Production Guide for Storage of Organic Fruits and Vegetables in 2012. Watkins has mentored 18 past and current graduate students, and he regularly hosts visiting scholars to collaborate and engage in postharvest research.

He has received numerous honors, including the Crystal Apple Award from the director of the Szczepan Pieniazek Research Institute of Pomology and Floriculture in Skierniewice, Poland, and the American Society for Horticultural Science Outstanding Extension Educator Award. He delivered the George Goodling Memorial Lecture to the State Horticultural Society of Pennsylvania in 2010.

Amanda Garris, Ph.D. ’04, is the agricultural experiment stations communications officer for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

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John Carberry