New SUNY-ESF president wants to keep school on leading edge

Dec 4, 2013

Dr. Quentin Wheeler will return to central New York in January to be SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry's first new president in more than a decade.

He comes back to New York from teaching at Arizona State University. Before that he cut his teeth as a professor at Cornell University where he stayed for a quarter century.

For a scientist, Wheeler said in an interview with WRVO, the forests of upstate New York are a good place to be.

"Historically, It’s always been seen sort of as America’s wilderness and being a scientist that’s interested in biological diversity, those forests are just incredibly diverse," he said.

Wheeler is an entomologist by trade – a scientist that studies bugs. He takes credit for the names of more than 100 different types of beetles.

Credit runJMrun / via Flickr

He will take over the Syracuse campus from Neil Murphy, who oversaw the state-run public college for 13 years.

"Society is facing environmental challenges that are absolutely unprecedented in human history in terms of their scale and complexity," he said, "and I would very much like to see ESF continue its tradition of being at the leading edge of discovering ways in which we can meet those environmental challenges and help society live more sustainably."

Wheeler wants to make sure ESF continues to stand out in a growing field of colleges that offer environmental studies.

"Perhaps the most promising way of doing that is stepping back and asking what are the most important questions facing science and society," said Wheeler, "and then plot a course to try and tackle those."

ESF often stands in the shadow of the larger Syracuse University next door, which helped start the college a hundred years ago. S.U. is also going through a transition to new leadership. Kent Syverud will take over the University in January. Wheeler said that offers a great advantage for both maintaining the relationship and looking for new opportunities.

"We'll approach it with an open mind," he added.

As for some of ESF’s quirkier traditions, like no walking across the quad in an effort to preserve the green space, he said he’s heard about it, "and I will certainly police myself to make sure I conform to tradition."

Wheeler calls ESF’s campus, tucked on the back of the University Hill, a gem that he wants more people to know about.