David Ackerly appointed dean of UC Berkeley College of Natural Resources

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David Ackerly has been selected to be the next dean of UC Berkeley’s College of Natural Resources, or CNR.

Ackerly will take over the position from current Dean J. Keith Gilless on July 1. Ackerly is currently the associate dean of the College of Letters and Science’s biological sciences division, a position he has held since 2016.

Ackerly said he considers CNR an “unusual college,” with disciplines ranging from agricultural to economic to social.

“We need all of these disciplines to face challenges of today,” Ackerly said. “Solution(s) won’t come from one discipline.”

Ackerly — who obtained his bachelor’s degree at Yale University and his doctorate from Harvard University — is a plant ecologist and evolutionary biologist by training. He gained his idea for his doctoral research when he was an undergraduate intern on a research trip in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil, where he studied tropical ecology.

During his time at Harvard, he had a chance to further his research on ecophysiology of tropical pioneer trees by undertaking a journey to Mexico.

Ackerly came to UC Berkeley in 2005 and has been a faculty member since then. Recently, he has shifted his research focus to climate change and adapting strategies in biodiversity conservation.

“We know we live in an era of climate change — a rapid change due to fossil fuels and other greenhouse gases,” Ackerly said. “What can we do to slow it down?”

According to Ackerly, impacts of greenhouse gases on the environment are already occurring, and the challenge now is to further develop existing technologies that conserve carbon dioxide in order to adapt strategies to slow down climate change.

Another one of Ackerly’s projects has been examining the causes and the aftermath of the Northern California wildfires in October 2017, done in collaboration with postdoctoral researchers, who will continue the research as Ackerly assumes his new role. He added that the project will be operational for the next three years.

“I’m enjoying lecturing — even though I don’t like grading, I’ll miss teaching,” Ackerly said.

Ackerly’s commitment to his duties as a lecturer will make him a terrific dean, said professor Lewis Feldman, a colleague of Ackerly.

Chancellor Carol Christ said in a statement that she holds Ackerly in high regard for being an advocate for crossing traditional disciplines.

When asked how he felt about his new role, Ackerly said he was very excited and a little nervous. Ackerly added that while he himself has a lot to learn about being dean, he will draw upon the experiences of his fellow deans and faculty leaders, whom Ackerley believes are essential to the campus’s success.

“(I) love working here,” Ackerly said. “People stay (because they are) dedicated to what Berkeley represents.”

Contact Jan Schuermann at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @Jan_182.