New global development unit calls for ‘education with impact’

As worsening conditions around the world threaten food security and exacerbate inequality, a new Cornell program will address directly some of the biggest challenges facing humanity.

The Department of Global Development will draw from faculty across the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) to create a unified development studies program focused on engagement with the world’s grand challenges at home and abroad. The broad interdisciplinary outlook of the department will emphasize real-world engagement to improve lives, reduce inequality and protect the environment.

The new unit will form a learning environment and academic culture that is interconnected, collaborative and inclusive, according to Max J. Pfeffer, executive dean of CALS and professor of development sociology. With a focus on rigorous scholarly work and a boots-on-the-ground approach to agriculture and development, the unit will establish an unmatched atmosphere for innovation, he said.

“We are empowering faculty to work together on a common set of practical research problems that connects science to the needs of real people,” Pfeffer said. “This instinct for education with impact goes right to the heart of the CALS mission and our legacy of championing agriculture and development around the world for more than a century.”

The new department begins operations Jan. 1.

A 2016 CALS faculty task force first identified global development as a thematic cluster that could promote cross-boundary research and further the college’s mission. Issues including agricultural production, gender and wealth inequality, demographic dynamics and climate change are among the challenges to be addressed as the department emerges as a cohesive, coordinated unit dedicated to solving entrenched and emergent problems.

“Food security and rural-urban livelihoods are at risk all over the globe,” said Ronnie Coffman, the Andrew H. & James S. Tisch Distinguished University Professor. “This new unit will be devoted to genuine, direct social impact by combining the theoretical with the practical and offering solutions to real-world problems.

“Our vision harnesses the energies of both tenure and non-tenure faculty all over CALS to apply themselves to issues that matter most in society,” said Coffman, whose primary appointment will reside in the new department. “We will create and sustain an entrepreneurial environment where talent and innovation can solve the biggest problems.”

The Department of Global Development will include tenure track and non-tenure track faculty members from a range of disciplines. Established high-impact research and education programs coming into the department will assure a strong focus on sustainable development in New York state and around the world.

Once approved by the State University of New York and State Department of Education, the curriculum will draw on the expertise of a range of scholars and practitioners. Students in two existing majors – international agriculture and rural development, and development sociology – will have the options of joining the new major or completing their current studies.

Parfait Eloundou-Enyegue, professor of development sociology, said the new unit will prepare the next generation of leaders through engaged and active learning that connects students with interdisciplinary faculty and experiences.

“Global problems are becoming more interconnected as the world gets more complex. We need to understand problems and address them faster and faster,” Eloundou-Enyegue said. “This new department is a response to the complexification of the concept of development itself, and will prepare students to interpret problems, clarify solutions, develop leadership and actually change the world for the better.”

He said Cornell is positioned to provide deeper analysis beyond the linear, purely technical work that is common in development studies offered elsewhere, and will prepare students to tackle the biggest challenges.

“Cornell is serious about global development, both in scholarship and action, and has been for many decades,” said Rebecca Nelson, professor of plant pathology and plant-microbe biology in the School of Integrative Plant Science. Nelson will hold a joint appointment in the new department. “The founding of the global development department is an exciting chance to bring together people from different disciplines to design new strategies, collaborations and curricula, and do what we do better to understand and confront issues like food insecurity.”

“There isn’t any other unit quite like this anywhere in the country,” said Wendy Wolford, vice provost for international affairs and the Robert A. and Ruth E. Polson Professor of Global Development. This new department will further distinguish Cornell and CALS in the global academic community.”

Matt Hayes is associate director for communications in International Programs.

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