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Rachel Dunifon named dean of Human Ecology

After two years as interim dean, Rachel Dunifon has been named the Rebecca Q. and James C. Morgan Dean of the College of Human Ecology, effective July 1.

Rachel Dunifon has been named dean of the College of Human Ecology.

Provost Michael Kotlikoff announced Dunifon’s appointment to a four-year term on May 6, following its approval by the State University of New York Board of Trustees and the Cornell Board of Trustees.

“Rachel is deeply familiar with Human Ecology’s mission and values and brings a wealth of experience to continue to build the college’s reputation as a leader in multidisciplinary research, teaching and outreach,” Kotlikoff said. “She is a tremendous asset to the College of Human Ecology both as a leader and a scholar, and I am excited to see her continue as dean.”

Dunifon has called the College of Human Ecology home since joining Cornell in 2001 as a professor of policy analysis and management specializing in child and family policy.

“I am honored to serve as dean of the College of Human Ecology,” Dunifon said. “This is an incredibly exciting time in our college history.”

Kotlikoff praised Dunifon’s “outstanding, forward-thinking leadership” as interim dean, including through a recent review of the social sciences at Cornell that concluded with plans to invest in a public policy school and establish multicollege “superdepartments” in several disciplines involving Human Ecology.

Dunifon said the review process helped faculty, students, staff and alumni come together to communicate what they value about the college and how they hope to see it move forward.

“My goal is to build on that energy, to enhance and articulate our identity and contributions,” she said, “and to work across campus with the other colleges and deans to collaborate in areas such as human health and well-being, sustainability, policy and design.”

The college houses about 100 tenure-track faculty, 1,200 undergraduates, 400 graduate students and 220 staff working in five academic departments – Policy Analysis and Management; Human Development; the Division of Nutritional Sciences; Design and Environmental Analysis; and Fiber Science and Apparel Design – plus nine centers and institutes.

“The type of applied, multidisciplinary work that we do is more important than ever. I’m looking forward to working with my colleagues to elevate that work and increase its impact.”

Rachel Dunifon

The college’s multidisciplinary strength has been on display during the coronavirus pandemic, Dunifon said, with faculty contributing expertise on everything from health policy to protective gear for medical workers to the design of hospital care settings.

“The type of applied, multidisciplinary work that we do is more important than ever,” she said. “I’m looking forward to working with my colleagues to elevate that work and increase its impact.”

The college is in the final stages of renovations to Martha Van Rensselaer Hall, a project that will bring programs together and create modern spaces for collaboration, Dunifon said, while preserving the 87-year-old building’s historic elements.

“I see returning to our renovated space as a chance to reflect on our past and the great contributions we’ve made, and also to envision how we want to evolve into the future,” Dunifon said. “Bringing our faculty, students, staff and alumni together to articulate how the work that we do in the College of Human Ecology benefits the world will be essential.”

Dunifon said she is proud to lead a college that embodies Cornell’s land-grant mission to pursue innovative research, train new leaders and translate research findings for policymakers and communities. Dating to its origins as the College of Home Economics, the college has also played a pioneering role in the education and empowerment of women.

“The nature of the work we do has changed since then,” Dunifon said, “but that strain of being innovative, inclusive and tackling the most pressing social issues is something we can be proud of still today.”

Before being named interim dean in July 2018, when she succeeded Alan Mathios, Dunifon served as the college’s senior associate dean for research and outreach.

As a scholar, Dunifon will continue to conduct research related to child and family policy, including an ongoing project funded by the William T. Grant Foundation focused on protecting vulnerable children in upstate New York communities affected by the opioid epidemic.

Dunifon co-directs Cornell Project 2GEN in Human Ecology’s Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research, which addresses the needs of at-risk children and their parents. She explored the dynamics of grandparents raising grandchildren in her 2018 book, “You’ve Always Been There for Me: Understanding the Lives of Grandchildren Raised by Grandparents.”

Dunifon earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Davidson College in 1994, and a Ph.D. in human development and social policy from Northwestern University in 1999. She completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Michigan School of Public Policy before joining Cornell.

Media Contact

Rebecca Valli