Locate Finger Lakes Business Journal

Cornell AgriTech names Chris Smart its new director

LOCATE Finger Lakes congratulates distinguished Cornell University Professor Chris Smart upon her selection as Director of Cornell AgriTech, and extends best wishes to her for a long and very successful tenure.
– Michael F. Nozzolio, Chairman, LOCATE Finger Lakes

Chris Smart

Cornell AgriTech has a new director.

Chris Smart, a crop pathologist known for her leadership in protecting the health of specialty crops across New York state, will move into the role Oct. 1.

AgriTech officials said Olga Padilla-Zakour will continue to serve as interim director until Sept. 30, after which she will resume her duties as professor of food science and director of the Cornell Food Venture Center, which plays a critical role in supporting New York state’s food industry.

Padilla-Zakour took over as interim director when Jan Nyrop retired after 40 years with Cornell.

“I’m honored to serve as director of Cornell AgriTech, and I’m more inspired than ever by the outstanding science and statewide impact of this campus,” Smart said. “At no point has the need for agricultural and food research, outreach and education been greater. Our commitment to science-based solutions at Cornell AgriTech positions us to address some of the greatest challenges facing New York’s food and agriculture industries.”

Benjamin Houlton, dean of Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, expressed gratitude for Padilla-Zakour’s service as interim director and touted Smart’s leadership and expertise as assets to Cornell AgriTech.

“Chris is a visionary leader with a passion for bolstering Cornell AgriTech’s momentum as a widely recognized innovator in food, agriculture and sustainability research, extension and education,” said Houlton. “She brings to the table a strong understanding of the challenges facing the New York farm and food community as well as Cornell AgriTech’s role in helping producers solve them as part of CALS’ Land-Grant mission.”

Cornell said that Smart, as a professor of plant pathology and plant-microbe biology, has leveraged research and extension activities at Cornell AgriTech to improve sustainable crop health and production across the state. Her research into the diseases of such crops as cucurbits, cabbage and tomatoes focuses on population genetics, detection and disease management under field conditions in New York, and she works with growers across the state to develop novel disease management options and sustainable agricultural practices.

According to Cornell, Smart has also has served as a project coordinator for its Hemp Research and Extension Program, which combines expertise across CALS to develop agricultural practices that benefit New York farmers and processors. The college said she also has played a key role in growing the talent pipeline for New York’s agriculture and food industries by advancing experiential learning opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students and enhancing STEM education for elementary students in Geneva.

In 2008, Smart helped launch the Summer Research Scholars Program to bring undergraduates from around the world to Cornell AgriTech for nine weeks of intensive research in agricultural sciences. The program has become a successful graduate student recruitment tool, inspiring many of the undergraduate participants to continue on to graduate studies at Cornell, CALS said.

Most recently, Smart served as director of the School of Integrative Plant Science, which unifies distinct disciplines to address global challenges of food security, environmental conservation, biodiversity and human health in a changing climate. In this role, Smart bolstered collaborative research, extension and education between the Ithaca and Geneva campuses to improve crop and soil health sustainably.

Smart earned her bachelor’s and doctorate degrees from Michigan State. She joined the Cornell faculty in 2003 and has more than 20 years of experience in extension, education and outreach. She is a fellow of the American Phytopathological Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

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