Benjamin Z. Houlton is the Ronald P. Lynch Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University and a professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology as well as Global Development. Dean Houlton began his term as the 12th Cornell CALS dean on October 1, 2020.
As a premier institution of scientific learning and discovery, Cornell CALS is a world leader in tackling the complex challenges of our time with a culture of interdisciplinary understanding and collaboration. It is home to Cornell University’s second-largest total college population, with 3,760 undergraduate students, 1,080 affiliated graduate students, 360 faculty, and 1,270 staff. The college offers 23 majors and more than 40 minors, managed by 16 departments and two schools. In fiscal year 2019, CALS led Cornell’s Ithaca campus with a total of $254 million in research expenditures.
Dean Houlton has published more than 130 works, including peer-reviewed scientific articles, book chapters, and published abstracts as tracked by Google Scholar. An accomplished international scientist, his research interests include global ecosystem processes, climate change solutions, and agricultural sustainability. Dean Houlton’s work has been published in leading scientific journals such as Nature, Science, Nature Climate Change, and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and has been covered by news media including The New York Times, Scientific American, NPR, Christian Science Monitor, Discovery News, MSNBC/Today, and the BBC. As part of his mission to connect scientific discovery with the public, Dean Houlton is also a frequent guest on regional and national news programs.
As founding co-chair of the California Collaborative for Climate Change Solutions, Dean Houlton works with researchers from key research institutions to accelerate the translation of research findings into practical climate solutions. He is a PI with the University of California Office of the President and an affiliate faculty member at their UC Davis campus. Dean Houlton is lead PI of the Working Lands Innovation Center, where he directs approximately 100 acres of farmland carbon sequestration projects to improve crop yields and create new financial markets for farmers and ranchers. He is also the editor of Global Biogeochemical Cycles, published by the American Geophysical Union, the world’s largest society promoting geophysical endeavors of Earth and space scientists. Dean Houlton served as a scientific advisor to a Rockefeller Foundation and World Wildlife Fund project on sustainable agriculture, human nutrition, and climate solutions. As dean, he shares responsibility for leadership of Cornell Cooperative Extension throughout New York state with the College of Human Ecology.
Prior to joining Cornell, Dean Houlton served on the UC Davis faculty beginning in 2007, teaching global environmental studies with a co-appointment in the UC Agriculture Experiment Station. He also led their John Muir Institute of the Environment, bringing together more than 300 faculty affiliates, 350 postdoctoral researchers, staff, and students from across the university with the goal of devising innovative solutions to the environmental sustainability challenges of the 21st century. As part of the institute, Dean Houlton led the new OneClimate “Big Idea,” an interdisciplinary, team-based approach to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help people, ecosystems, and agriculture adapt to an uncertain climate future. He served as faculty director of two diversity, equity, and inclusion programs at UC Davis — EnvironMentors and SEEDS — and supported the launch of GOALS (Girls’ Outdoor Adventure in Leadership and Science) at the Muir Institute. Dean Houlton also works with California tribes to empower the application of Indigenous knowledge to agricultural and environmental sustainability.
Dean Houlton received his B.S. from the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point in Water Chemistry, an M.S. from Syracuse University in Environmental Engineering Science, and a Ph.D. from Princeton University in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. He spent two years working as a postdoctoral scholar at Stanford University and the Carnegie Institution for Science at Stanford before joining UC Davis. Dean Houlton is the recipient of the Gene E. Likens Award from the Ecological Society of America, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Young Investigator Award, and the NSF-CAREER award.
Dean Houlton grew up in Wisconsin and Minnesota, solidifying his dedication to the environment at a young age while camping with his family throughout the Midwest and spending time on his great-aunt and uncle’s dairy farm. His family legacy in agriculture spans the dairy, poultry, and grain commodities, and still includes one remaining family dairy farm in Kansas. Dean Houlton can often be found fly fishing, running, traveling internationally, and coaching his kids’ soccer teams in his spare time.