Amplifying our historic commitment to improving everyday life while articulating a focus on human health and well-being

Message from Dean Rachel Dunifon 

September 24, 2021

It is with great pleasure that I introduce the College of Human Ecology’s Strategic Vision 2030. This vision reflects the work of countless contributors who engaged in a 7-month process led by my team with support from Bridgeport Consulting. I am grateful to the students, staff, faculty, alumni, peers, and partners whose candid and thoughtful input helped us imagine and plan for our future.

One challenge our College has confronted time and again is simply one of definition: what do we mean by “human ecology”? Put simply, human ecology refers to understanding and impacting the multilayered influences on human health and well-being. These factors range from the food we consume, the clothing we wear, the buildings we inhabit, the families, neighborhoods, and communities in which we exist, and the policies that affect our lives. Humans shape these layers of influence, and they shape us, in complex ways. It follows, then, that the human experience must be considered in relationship with rather than isolation from these factors. Human ecologists seek to understand these complex dynamics in service of improving human health and well-being.

Our essential mission – improving human lives – remains as relevant today as it was nearly a century ago when the College of Home Economics was founded. Similarly, the cornerstone principles of Inclusion, Interdisciplinarity, Impact, and Innovation continue to define the way in which we pursue that mission. These cornerstone principles, in combination with the proud history of the College, set a strong foundation for the College of Human Ecology’s future growth.

This strategic vision positions us for that growth by articulating a focus on human health and well-being across our academic units, and by laying out three scholarly areas of excellence where the College of Human Ecology offers uniquely valuable contributions: 1) Health Equity; 2) Sustainability & Society; and 3) Technology & Human Flourishing.

Crucially, this vision identifies an ambitious and achievable set of initiatives and goals to guide our decisions and investments as we seek to bring the vision into reality.

I look forward to working with you to precisely do that.

Rachel Dunifon
The Rebecca Q. and James C. Morgan Dean

diagram of the strategic vision

Our cornerstone principles of Inclusion, Interdisciplinarity, Impact, and Innovation define the way we pursue our mission. Vision 2030 positions us for growth by articulating a focus on Human Health and Well-being across our academic units and by laying out three scholarly areas of excellence where the College offers uniquely valuable contributions: Health Equity, Sustainability & Society, and Technology & Human Flourishing.

Cornerstone Principles

Through the decades that followed the College’s founding, the principle of boundary-breaking inclusion
strengthened into a defining feature. In 1911, founders Martha Van Rensselaer and Flora Rose became the first full-time, female professors at Cornell. CHE was the first unit at Cornell to appoint a female dean, Sarah Blanding, in 1942. Flemmie Kittrell, the first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. in nutrition in the United States, completed her studies at CHE; and CHE scholar Josephine Allen became the first African American woman to earn tenure at Cornell.

Today, we are proud of the broad diversity of our faculty body and the efforts of our alumni, staff, and students to create an inclusive and supportive college community. As concepts of diversity, equity and inclusion are embraced and acted upon in higher education, CHE is both aware there is much work to do and committed to leading the way.

In addition to revolutionizing the reality of who could participate in higher education, CHE
transformed the structure and format of higher education itself. From our roots in home economics, CHE has grown into a hub for dynamic departments that cut across traditional academic boundaries. We organize our work around the multilayered contexts that influence human health and well-being: from the molecular to the communal, from our families to our physical spaces, from our food and clothing to the natural and built environment around us. Our faculty are leading experts in their fields, and CHE provides a home where they can come together across disciplines to leverage their expertise and improve human health and well-being.

This combination of breadth and depth parallels the real-world challenges that CHE researchers examine. We are drawn to the questions that lie at the intersections of traditional scholarly disciplines; our research explores the way genes respond to environmental cues, how the design of hospital settings improves well-being, how experiences of discrimination impact physical health, and how our clothes can protect us from infectious diseases.

Through our work, Human Ecology impacts human health and well-being in many contexts. Throughout our history, CHE has been deeply rooted in rigorous basic science research, and committed to meaningful real-world partnerships with policymakers, practitioners, communities and industry. In doing so, we follow what CHE scholar Urie Bronfenbrenner, namesake of the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research, called, “research for the public good.” Our model of translational research moves from the gene to the person, from the person to the social context, and ultimately, to the design of policies, products and programs that improve human lives, feeding back again into research itself.

Across CHE, our students, staff, faculty and alumni engage directly with local, national and international communities to develop a nuanced understanding of the current challenges people face. As a result, they pioneer novel approaches for improving human health and well-being.

CHE brings together scientific, creative and applied methodologies to explore, discover and create new
knowledge and innovative approaches to enrich human lives at all levels of scale — from the biological to the individual, from the interpersonal to the societal.

We have crafted eminently practical innovations, breathtakingly beautiful creations, and have advanced scientific theories because we know that truly novel approaches tend to emerge where boundaries are not rigid and when different disciplines and modes of research interact. For example, we examine how poverty impacts neurological development; how policies affect human health and nutrition; how fabrics and fashion relate to environmental sustainability; and how physical, social, and virtual spaces shape human cognition, emotion, and physiology.

What might be the next century of creative and scientific collaborations designed to understand and impact human health and well- being? CHE is positioned to lead the way.

Scholarly Areas of Excellence

Understand the biological, cultural, environmental, policy and societal factors that allow all humans to lead healthy lives; study the multi-causal factors that create health inequalities, including factors that influence disease risk and mortality, access to care, and quality of life. Develop, test, and evaluate interventions, programs, and policies to reduce health inequalities and to achieve health equity, leading to flourishing communities.

Examine how humans shape, and are shaped by, the climate crisis, both its prevention and responsive adaptations. Develop and evaluate solutions, from the cell to the whole organism to the local community to our global society, to forestall climate change and to foster human resilience in the face of the climate crisis. Focus on how climate change exacerbates existing human health inequities and develop responses to mitigate those effects. Apply the science of behavior change to the evaluation of, and response to, risk. Develop innovative designs, materials, policies, and programs to promote the wise and sustainable use of resources and evaluate human responses to these solutions.

Integrate novel technologies, including the use of big data, to advance the art and science of human cognition, emotion, and physiology. Develop and use technological advances to enhance the human condition.

Strategic Initiatives At-A-Glance

Build on existing strengths and increase our excellence and impact in three scholarly focal areas:

  • Health Equity
  • Sustainability & Society
  • Technology & Human Flourishing

Ensure students have exceptional opportunities to spark curiosity, integrate insights across disciplines, create new knowledge, discover passions, and develop novel approaches to improve human health and well-being in our key scholarly areas of excellence.

Engage in mutually beneficial partnerships that break down boundaries between academic, community and industry sectors so that we can work collectively toward improving human lives.

Build upon our longstanding commitment to inclusion and social justice to foster a strong sense of community, connection and trust so that all members of the college community can flourish.

Foster a vibrant, unified network of people and programs that are delivering our mission in New York City.

We look forward to your participation as we bring Vision 2030 to life. We also look forward to sharing our progress in future updates to this website and other communications throughout the year.