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Jahn chosen to lead College of Agricultural and Life Sciences

Molly Jahn, a Cornell University expert in plant breeding, gene discovery and genetic mapping of agricultural plants, has been named the new dean of the UW-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, Chancellor John D. Wiley announced today.

“Molly is a gifted scholar with the vision to blend top-notch education, research and outreach in the true Wisconsin tradition,” says Wiley. “She is also an innovator who understands the importance of teamwork and the critical role of a land grant university in today”s economy.”

Jahn, a professor of plant breeding and genetics and plant biology at Cornell, says she looks forward to the opportunity to assume leadership of the college, which has 2,200 undergraduates, 1,000 graduate students, 270 faculty members and a budget of more than $150 million.

“This is an incredible opportunity to lead a world-class agricultural college in a state in which agriculture and life sciences are so central to the economy and to the future,” Jahn says.

CALS is awarded more than $100 million annually in research funds, including federal grants, non-federal grants and gifts. In addition to its research and instructional roles, the college also has a strong extension and outreach mission, with 12 agricultural research stations across the state.

“Against the backdrop of a globalizing world economy, land grant colleges must define and articulate a compelling vision for their survival in partnership with the public, the private sector and government,” says Jahn, who has been on the faculty at Cornell since 1991.

Jahn, who will take over the deanship on Aug. 1, 2006, adds that her leadership style emphasizes team-based systems and principles that encourage innovation.

“I work to build a common vision, motivate, engage and distribute authority such that responsibility and recognition is shared, from the most junior to the most senior contributors,” she says. “I aim to provide a supportive environment, creating a workplace focused on productivity and creativity.”

Jahn has focused her research on breeding new vegetable varieties for use around the world and on gene discovery in crop plants – notably peppers and the cucumber family – with a focus on economically important plant traits. She currently manages more than $6 million in federal and industry research projects and has more than 30 commercial licenses in force. She has been active internationally, with research efforts underway in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Additionally, Jahn directs the Public Seed Initiative and the Organic Seed Partnership, an outreach activity based on an alliance of public-sector researchers, seed companies and non-profit groups interested in improving the use of public plant varieties and crop genetic diversity.

The Organic Seed Partnership also includes land grant colleges established in 1890 and was recently awarded the largest competitive grant in the history of the U.S. Department of Agriculture”s organic agriculture programs.

Robert Heisey, chair of the research committee for the California Pepper Commission, says Jahn”s appointment is “fantastic news for the farmers of Wisconsin.” Over the years, the commission provided Jahn”s lab with more than $500,000 to work on disease resistance.

“Molly understands the importance of smaller farms, as well as corporate farms,” Heisey says. “She also understands the importance of applying basic research to real-world situations. She”s one of the smartest, best organized, most energetic people I”ve ever met.”

Jahn earned her bachelor”s degree in 1980 at Swarthmore College, her master”s in 1983 in biology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and her doctorate in 1988 in plant breeding from Cornell.

Jahn will succeed Dean Elton D. Aberle, who retired Sept. 1, capping a 38-year academic career that included stints at Purdue University, the University of Nebraska and the Madison campus. David Hogg, executive associate dean at CALS, was named to serve as interim dean.

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Writer: Dennis Chaptman (608) 262-9406