Atkinson Center directorship named for retiring DiSalvo

Frank DiSalvo
Frank DiSalvo is retiring after eight years as the director of the David R. Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future.

At a May 20 retirement “roast” for Frank DiSalvo, who will step down after eight years at the helm of the David R. Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, David Atkinson ’60 announced that he and his wife, Patricia, as a surprise to DiSalvo, had endowed the Francis J. DiSalvo Director of the Atkinson Center in his honor.

“When Pat and I agreed to endow the Atkinson Center several years ago, it was not certain how it would all work out. Needless to say, the center has been a great success. In honor of the great job done by Frank, we are very pleased to endow the directorship in his name,” David Atkinson said.

The roast, jokey and affectionate, was punctuated by admiration for DiSalvo’s accomplishments. These include more than 500 research papers and over 20,000 citations, advancements in chemical compound synthesis and fuel cell development, award-winning teaching at Cornell and leadership of the interdisciplinary Atkinson Center.

A letter to DiSalvo from Cornell President David J. Skorton read at the event said: “You exceeded all expectations by creating, in a very short time, a dynamic, seminal and collaborative organization that has become a model for other centers on campus and beyond.”

Wendy Wolford, the Robert A. and Ruth E. Polson Professor of Development Sociology, suggested DiSalvo’s retirement might be just “an elaborate ruse to let you go fishing,” referring to his love for the sport.

The Atkinson Center, the only academic institution in America to address energy, the environment and economic sustainability in one center, brings together more than 430 researchers from 66 Cornell departments and engages nonacademic partners to develop new knowledge and sustainability solutions. DiSalvo has said the center seeks to “create a world where people can meet their needs and pursue their dreams without compromising the ability of future generations to do the same.”

Center research collaborations have produced advances in renewable energy, understanding poverty and its solutions, and the protection of habitats. Recently, it has accelerated its relationships with industry, nongovernmental organizations and organizations including CARE, the Smithsonian Institution, the Environmental Defense Fund and the Nature Conservancy.

These relationships are key to meeting the challenges of sustainability, because, DiSalvo has noted, “even if all the universities in the world banded together, it wouldn’t be enough. “Together,” DiSalvo said at the end of the evening, “we built a community of passion to help build a sustainable future. Together, I believe we can change the world.”

A graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (physics) and Stanford University (chemistry), DiSalvo worked as a scientist and then research head of several departments at Bell Labs 1971-86. There DiSalvo learned “to accomplish anything, you had to collaborate.”

David and Pat Atkinson endowed the center with a commitment valued at more than $80 million. In addition to its Academic Venture Fund and Rapid Response Fund research grant programs, the center funds postdoctoral and faculty fellowships and hosts topical lunches and a climate change focus group.

Emily Sanders Hopkins is a writer for Alumni Affairs and Development.

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