Duke University has selected Alan Townsend, an ecosystem ecologist and professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, as the new dean of the Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke President Richard H. Brodhead and Provost Peter Lange announced Wednesday. He begins his new position on July 1.
The appointment follows an international search involving 270 candidates. The search advisory committee was led by Dean Urban, professor of landscape ecology and chair of the Nicholas School's Division of Environmental Sciences and Policy.
"Alan Townsend is a distinguished scholar who has the proven ability to get large, diverse groups to work together in the environmental field," Brodhead said. "Under his leadership, the Nicholas School will play an ever greater role in research and teaching on campus as well as in the national and international conversations on the care of the natural world."
Added Lange, "We are thrilled that Alan has agreed to become the new dean of the Nicholas School. He brings a record of outstanding research, teaching, policy engagement and leadership, along with a commitment to the preparation of scholars and practitioners.
"Alan presented an exciting vision for the future of the Nicholas School that will build on the strong foundation built by Dean Chameides and his predecessor, and encompasses all divisions of faculty and students," Lange continued. "We are confident he will solidify the Nicholas School as the preeminent place for the study and teaching of environmental issues on the national and global scale."
Townsend is a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and a fellow of the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research at the University of Colorado at Boulder. His research focuses on how ecosystems interact with a changing global environment, especially in tropical regions, and why this matters to human health and welfare. He is the author of more than 100 peer-reviewed publications and served as a lead author on the recently released U.S. National Climate Assessment.
"Alan's interests and background match wonderfully with what we were looking for in the Nicholas School's next dean," Urban said. "He has great experience with programs at the undergraduate, master's and Ph.D. levels, and he has shown his leadership not only in the strategic visioning of these programs but also in their day-to-day stewardship and administration. We are delighted that he is joining us."
Townsend has held leadership positions at university, national and international levels, including recent terms as director of the University of Colorado at Boulder's Environmental Studies Program, and director of the Division of Environmental Biology at the National Science Foundation.
He also has been active in engaging the public about environmental challenges. Townsend was named a Google Science Communication Fellow in 2011 and an Aldo Leopold Leadership Fellow in 2001, both of which are programs that encourage and train scientists to communicate with wider audiences. He currently serves as the co-chair of the Leopold Leadership Program and blogs on a personal site called State Factors.
Townsend received his bachelor's degree from Amherst College in 1988, and his Ph.D. in biological sciences from Stanford University in 1994.
"Duke's formation of the Nicholas School of the Environment was visionary, and its successes over the past two decades have created a model that many other universities are seeking to replicate," Townsend said. "Visit the Durham and Beaufort campuses and you understand why: the remarkable leadership, talent and collegiality of those who work and study there. I'm deeply honored to join this extraordinary group of people, whose efforts are helping society chart a more environmentally sound and sustainable path."
Townsend has two daughters and one son. His wife, Diana Nemergut, is currently an associate professor at the University of Colorado, and will be joining the faculty of Duke's biology department. She is internationally recognized for her research in environmental microbiology.
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