Barbara A. Knuth (Class of 1980)

photo of Barbara A. KnuthPh.D. - Virginia Tech (1986)
M.En. - Miami University (1982)
B.Phil. - Miami University (1980)
B.A. - Miami University (1980)

Barbara joined the Department of Natural Resources at Cornell University in 1986, in the area of Natural Resource Policy and Management. She is co-leader of the Human Dimensions Research Unit, focusing on inquiry to improve understanding of human attitudes and behaviors related to natural resources and the environment; and to foster integration of social and ecological information in natural resources and environmental management decision-making processes. Her current research examines risk perception, communication, and management focused on fisheries affected by chemical contaminants; community-based natural resource management approaches; and factors influencing human stewardship and use of natural resources, particularly fish and wildlife.

Barbara was named Cornell University's Vice Provost and Graduate School Dean in March 2010.

"Western enhanced my understanding of how to work in multi-disciplinary contexts, and my confidence in navigating diverse sets of terminology, cultures, and practices related to different disciplines and worldviews."

What would you identify as the key elements and core values of the Western Program as you experienced it?

"Building human relationships and asking questions about evidence, credibility, and connections between topics and disciplines were key elements of my Western College Program experience. The notions of relationships and connections (between people, ideas, and problems) were the driving force of my Western education.

"Solving societal problems will never be accomplished successfully in the vacuums of specific disciplines or exclusionary frames of reference, nor without productive and respectful interactions among people. Western empowered me with both the philosophical vision and the practical tools to understand these concepts and to live them."

What are your best and worst Western memories?

"My worst memory was receiving the news that the Western College Program was going to be changed substantially. I can only hope that the new iteration will encompass many of the core values and learning approaches that were so instrumental in the program I experienced.

"My best memories are the people. I still keep in touch with some of the professors who were on the Western faculty when I was a student.

"My Western housemates (9 of us) had another reunion this summer, renewing our relationships, discussing politics, comparing our very diverse careers, and reflecting on what a marvelous experience we had at Western, in large part because of the people we met there.

"Western has attracted a certain type of inquisitive intellect, resulting in very exciting and productive relationships growing from the Program."

How has your experience of the WCP community shaped your subsequent participation in other communities?

"I am currently a Professor of Natural Resource Policy and a Senior Associate Dean in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University. In both of these roles, I have to think across disciplines and relate ideas and programs to each other. This involves life sciences, social sciences, and environmental sciences. Western enhanced my understanding of how to work in multi-disciplinary contexts, and my confidence in navigating diverse sets of terminology, cultures, and practices related to different disciplines and worldviews.

"In addition, the residential learning experience and interactions with faculty on campus (particularly having the Dean of Western living on campus) was quite influential in my own excitement and engagement on campus as a student. As a faculty member at Cornell, I lived on campus with my family, as a Faculty-in-Residence, fostering community and social interactions among faculty and undergraduate students. At Western, I saw the benefits to students from such close faculty interactions, but also perceived that faculty realized real benefits from their interactions as well."

What impact has your Western education had on your professional development and career path?

"I have pursued research, teaching, and outreach on societal and environmental problems that clearly cross disciplines and require multiple perspectives to work toward solutions. Western engaged me in thinking across boundaries."

What do you most value now about interdisciplinary education?

"Societal problems of the magnitude we face in this century will only be addressed by engaging multiple disciplines and perspectives. Interdisciplinary education enables graduates to be successful in such challenging times."

What are your aspirations for the new program?

"My hope for the new program is that it will attract vibrant, engaged, and enthusiastic students and faculty who will engage each other in learning about and debating possible solutions to the leading societal, environmental, and political challenges of our time."

[January 2009]