Dean’s Corner, Summer 2022

Sonia Altizer, saltizer@uga.edu

Contact: Sonia Altizer, saltizer@uga.edu

The Odum cabin.

It’s been a joy and an honor for me to serve as Interim Dean of Ecology during the past year, and to work with the Odum School community to strengthen our academic programs, scholarly research, and public engagement. For more than five decades, the Odum School of Ecology has led the boundaries of discovery in ecological science, trained future generations, and developed innovative solutions to environmental problems. Together we will continue to grow the Odum School’s national and global reputation, foster discovery, support diversity, and prepare global thinkers to tackle complex problems. To our students, faculty, staff and community of alumni, donors and friends, please know that the Odum School of Ecology at the University of Georgia is your home, and we are here to support you in achieving your goals.

Thanks to the determination and innovation of Odum School members, 2021-22 was an incredible year for Ecology at UGA. A total of 42 undergraduates and 14 graduate students finished their degrees in Ecology. We hosted many in-person events for the first time since 2019, including: Winter and Spring Convocation, Parents and Families Day, Graduate Student Symposium, Undergraduate Retreat at the Odum cabin, the annual Odum Lecture, emeritus faculty lunches, Waffle Wednesdays, and Friday coffee hours. Ecology faculty published over 130 scholarly papers, with many appearing in top journals such as PNAS (2), Ecology Letters (4), and Proceedings B (6). Important discoveries received global attention, including a 2022 study of the newly-invasive Joro spider, and a 2021 study of drivers of human disease outbreaks. Faculty received 30 new grants and contracts, including a 7-year NIH grant for $92 million to establish a new center to study and fight influenza. Other awards and honors this past year include: Tejas Reddy (Udall Scholar); Elizabeth Esser (UGA Presidential Award of Excellence); Corinne Sweeney (Ecological Society of America’s McCarter Student Policy Award); Jeb Byers (AAAS Fellow, UGA Creative Research Award, and Lothar Tresp Outstanding Honors Professor); Pej Rohani (ESA fellow); John Drake (Regents’ Professor), Amy Rosemond (UGA Distinguished Research Professor); and alumnus Jianguo “Jack” Liu (ESA Eminent Ecologist). These are just a handful of the many recent accomplishments of Odum School members.

Three Odum School graduates in regalia.

During the past year, the Odum School grew and branched out in new areas. Ecology enrolled 268 students in 2021, more than at any point in our history. Ecology’s Costa Rica study away programs during fall 2021 and May 2022 trained over two dozen students in tropical ecology, conservation, and hands-on research. Other successful study away courses took students to South Africa and across the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin. Students in Ecology’s two service learning courses developed projects across UGA and Athens-Clarke County, including adding a new pollinator and native plant garden to the Ecology Building courtyard. Amidst UGA’s launch of a new campus-wide active learning initiative, two Ecology faculty members were part of the inaugural class of summer active learning fellows. In 2020, the Odum School became the home of UGA’s Sustainability Certificate Program, which now serves over 270 students annually.

Ecology courtyard pollinator garden with interpretive sign.

In 2021-22, Ecology welcomed new core staff members to the main office, and added three new staff positions: a grants coordinator, a communications specialist, and an academic programs professional. Ecology recruited two faculty members who will start in August 2022: an assistant professor (Sechindra Vallury) to serve as director of policy for the River Basin Center, and a research scientist (Lewis Bartlett) focused on honeybee health to be shared with Entomology. Improvements continued to the Ecology building to enhance core instructional, meeting, office, and research facilities. New technology was added to classrooms and conference areas to support hybrid seminars, videoconferencing, and active learning. To meet Ecology’s growing needs for student scholarships and experiential learning support, we created a new Ecology Undergraduate Student Support Fund, and targeted annual giving efforts towards student support. In Spring 2022, 16 ecology graduates launched the Odum School’s inaugural Alumni Board Working Group, meeting monthly to plan the structure and priorities for a new Ecology Alumni Board.

As we look to the coming academic year, the Odum School is stronger than ever, and our future is bright. This fall, Ecology will search for two new tenure-track faculty members focused on quantitative disease ecology to fill positions tied to a campus-wide presidential hiring initiative in artificial intelligence and computational sciences. The River Basin Center will host a two-day fall symposium to celebrate two decades of water policy development and to honor the contributions of former RBC Director of Policy Laurie Fowler. The Odum School is poised to develop new opportunities for alumni engagement and networking with current and former students. We plan to launch new fundraising efforts targeting graduate student summer scholarships and support for students working in Costa Rica.

Ecology courtyard.

Despite these successes and opportunities, our deepest values and determination continue to be tested. It’s been said many times during the past two years: We are living in extraordinary times. Nearly every day, we are reminded of the ongoing global pandemic, the increasingly dire consequences of climate change, the war in Ukraine, economic stressors, mental health pressures, and social injustices. Against this backdrop, the Odum School community has pressed on with our core mission. This mission has never been more important than it is today. As I look around our school, I’m reminded of the profound research discoveries by Odum School ecologists, our commitment to learning and student engagement, and our focus on making the world a better place. I’m also reminded that we are working as a collaborative community, using our diverse skills, knowledge, and approaches towards this common good. Much has changed in the Odum School of Ecology during the year, but the things we value most—our commitment to excellence in teaching and research, our relationships with our alumni and friends—remain the same.

To our friends and alumni: I encourage you to connect with us. Please browse our website, follow us on social media, tag us in sharing your news and accomplishments, and drop us a line to say hello and share your vision and advice with us. With your support and engagement, we can create and shape the future of the Odum School of Ecology together.

The Altizer-Davis family at a UGA football game.