After a long and successful 12 years as chair of ecology and evolutionary biology, Professor Deborah Goldberg has officially passed the baton to Professor John Vandermeer for the 2013-2014 academic year.

“It is with enthusiasm and trepidation that I enter the role of chair: enthusiasm for helping guide the department in the very positive directions already established by the good Dr. Goldberg, trepidation in that I must live up to the high standards she established for the chair,” said Vandermeer.

Vandermeer is the Asa Gray Distinguished University Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and an Arthur T. Thurnau Professor. In addition to EEB, he is formally affiliated with the Center for the Study of Complex Systems, Michigan Center for Theoretical Physics, School of Natural Resources and Environment, Latin American and Caribbean Studies, and American Studies.

Vandermeer is widely recognized for his outstanding accomplishments in teaching, mentoring, research, writing, and diversity outreach. To touch on a few highlights: he was awarded the Harold R. Johnson Diversity Service Award from the U-M Office of the Provost in 2013. The recipients were selected for their dedication to developing cultural and ethnic diversity at U-M. The research interests in the Vandermeer lab cross many boundaries including forest ecology, tropical agroecology, and theoretical ecology. His most recent project is unraveling the complex interactions associated with the production of coffee in southern Mexico. He always has a full contingent of interested students working in his lab. Vandermeer is the author or co-author of 15 books and over 200 scientific papers.

One of Vandermeer’s previous students, Dr. Sandra Steingraber, an acclaimed ecologist and author, said that she learned both elements that she calls her “stock and trade,” as Vandermeer’s graduate assistant and teaching his classes. “There are two challenges in presenting science to the general public and John’s very adroit at overcoming both,” Steingraber said. “Often, people are either indifferent to science or scared of it. Getting them past that is one art, by knowing how to bring not just plain spoken English to complex biology, but to tell a story where there’s a mystery to understand and resolve.

“The other challenge is that there’s a grief we all feel about the destruction of the planetary ecosystem and it’s so profound that we turn away from the evidence because nobody wants to feel despair.” Vandermeer’s optimism of focusing on the many research studies that show such promise for the world has colored Steingraber’s world view rosier, helping her to see hope for the future.

Goldberg said, “I enjoyed my time as chair tremendously and it is a bit strange to have stepped down after twelve years in the role. Seeing the department grow and change has been fascinating and even better has been working with our amazing faculty, students, and staff.  The department is in terrific hands with John for this year and then Diarmaid starting after that and I look forward to seeing how it develops in new and exciting directions.”

Read more in Celebrating Chair Goldberg in previous EEB web news. Also, watch for a feature article in the upcoming fall issue of EEB’s alumni newsletter, Natural Selections.

Read more about John Vandermeer’s diversity award in previous web news.

In this article:

Goldberg, Deborah; Vandermeer, John