The Cornell Lab is known as Dr. Ian Owens welcomed as new director in 2021
Dr. Ian Owens will become Cornell Lab's next CEO in July 2021. Photo courtesy Ian Owens.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology proudly announces that Dr. Ian Owens will be his next managing director. Owens, a respected evolutionary biologist and museum director, will take over the helm of the 106-year-old institution in July 2021. He will also hold a professorship in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology of Cornell University's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS).
Owens is from Yorkshire, England. He has 25 years of experience as a professor and professor at Imperial College London and as director of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and the Natural History Museum of London.
“As the next director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ian Owens will embrace what the laboratory stands for and guide us through the 21st century to continue the incredible achievements we have made in science and outreach, and protect nature like no other other organization in the world can inform, "said Linda Macaulay, chair of the Cornell Lab Board of Directors and co-chair of the Search Committee.
She highlighted the combination of talent and experience that made Owens the Lab their first choice, pointing to his influential academic career, deep knowledge of administration and finance, thoughtful leadership style, and lifelong love of birds.
"To have the chance to work in the lab is almost irresistible," said Owens. “This is a group of bright, highly creative people who are dedicated to using birds to open up nature to a vast community. It's the most exciting thing I could ever do with my life. "
Leading the Cornell Lab into the future
After more than two decades of rapid growth, Owens arrives at Cornell Lab, which has grown into a global leader in ornithology, big data and technical innovation, citizen science, public relations and conservation filmmaking. Owens says the next phase of growth will depend on scaling the lab's ability to work with massive amounts of data and make its work accessible to even more people around the world – while maintaining the lab's unique spirit of creativity and mission.
Improving diversity is key to real protection in today's world, Owens said. "We have to use the special power of birds to expand the coalition of people who are with us in this game, who appreciate nature and appreciate the birds."
As an example, he described a recent trip to a Painted Bunting vagabond near his home in Washington, DC. When he arrived, a bird watcher was using the lab's eBird mobile app to enter data. Nearby, a group of Japanese tourists interviewed Merlin Bird ID to learn more about the bird that had caused so much uproar. "It was like using the Google Maps of Nature," he said. "It was humbling – and incredibly exciting – to see the lab reach and empower people."
"Ian Owens brings an incredible body of knowledge about birds, a passion for connecting the public to scientific discovery, and leadership in environmental big data to CALS," said Benjamin Z. Houlton, Dean of Ronald P. Lynch at CALS. "We are thrilled to have him lead the Lab of Ornithology's renowned impact on global sustainability, citizen science, and the worldwide conservation and understanding of the wonders of birds."
Owens will succeed Director John Fitzpatrick, who has headed Cornell Lab since 1995 and led the organization as it grew from a few dozen employees in 1995 to 250 employees and an annual operating budget of $ 35 million.
"It means a lot to me personally that I can hand the baton to Ian and have 100% confidence," said Fitzpatrick. "Just as important is that it is a real bird, knows a lot about ornithology, and has done very significant research in both evolutionary ecology and global conservation. We're getting a real star here."
A career with increasing impact
It was a flyby by a Eurasian marsh-harrier who put Owens on his career path at the age of 15. "It was just amazing in every way," recalled Owens. "A combination of strength, beauty and fragility and only a few inches above my head." The next day he asked for a day off from work, spent it watching waders through old 8 × 30 binoculars "Sputnik Spotter" and never looked back.
A few years later he studied Eurasian yolk in the Scottish highlands. After meeting a Brown Kiwi in New Zealand, he was fascinated by the bewildering variety of birds. He began studying white eyes in the Pacific Islands and the divergence on the bird tree of life – a work that led him to write a book on evolutionary ecology, and in 2004 earned him the scientific medal from the Zoological Society of London.
In the early 2000s, convinced that true conservation is impossible without public support, Owens switched careers and became the Science Director at the Natural History Museum in London. He was part of the team that replaced the museum's iconic Diplodocus dinosaur in the main hall with the skeleton of a blue whale they called "Hope" – a way of helping the museum transition from a Victorian-era fossil steward to a living institution to signal that hit current problems head-on.
For Owens, the Cornell Lab is a natural history museum of the future, unconstrained by its physical footprint, capable of putting information and tools into the hands of people wherever they are, enabling them to explore and understand the natural world around them. and inspire them to act.
"The laboratory was born to understand birds, and that remains its main driving force," said Owens. “But now the relationship between birds and humans is really going to matter. The lab has prepared itself excellently for this major challenge and it will be exciting to see where we go next. "