Environmental sciences professor Anne Kapuscinski leaves the College

by Julian Nathan | 8/10/18 2:40am

On July 26, former Sherman Fairchild distinguished professor in sustainability science Anne Kapuscinski left the College to direct the the University of California, Santa Cruz’s new graduate program in coastal science and policy and teach as an environmental studies professor. The departure of Kapuscinski — who chairs the influential Union of Concerned Scientists and has advised the World Health Organization, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and various other agencies — follows the departures of other prominent College faculty, such as computer science professor Hany Farid and government professor Brendan Nyhan.

Kapuscinski said that she was “aggressively” recruited by UC Santa Cruz last fall through a “target of excellence” hire process. She added that the graduate program she now directs selected its inaugural cohort of 10 students while she was still negotiating the terms of her position.

Kapuscinski stressed that her departure was not related to any frustrations with the College.

“I really love Dartmouth,” she said.

She explained that she chose to accept her current position at UC Santa Cruz because the university’s core strengths and proximity to the Pacific Ocean more closely align with her research about coastal sustainability.

“I wasn’t actively looking to go somewhere else, but in my heart, I think I always knew that my interests are oriented toward the ocean, toward coastal zones,” she said.

Kapuscinski said that her position at UC Santa Cruz might permit her to devote more time to research. She added that although she found the College’s undergraduate focus rewarding, it was also time consuming.

“Dartmouth is primarily undergraduate-focused, and if you commit to undergraduate education seriously there, it takes a lot of your time,” she said. “I still managed to do research, but there’s no question that I had to really work at it to fit that in.”

However, she noted that having to balance undergraduate education and research was not a part of her decision to leave the College.

“I’m blessed … I’ve had excellent support doing research [at Dartmouth],” she said.

Kapuscinski also cited differences in institutional identity between the Dartmouth and UC Santa Cruz, which more heavily emphasizes graduate-level studies.

“Every institution has a core nature to it and needs to play to its strengths,” she said. “Dartmouth’s core strength is really stellar undergraduate education … I don’t imagine that graduate programs are ever going to be the central focus at Dartmouth.”

She said that while her tenure at the College gave her the opportunity to work with students to solve real-world problems, she will have the chance to do so on “a bit of a larger scale” at UC Santa Cruz in a way that is “really oriented to the coast.”

When Kapuscinski informed other Dartmouth faculty that she was considering a position at UC Santa Cruz, her colleagues were supportive, she said.

“People completely understood why I made this decision and were sorry for me to leave … I left on good terms,” she said. “I expect the faculty at Dartmouth and other people [I interacted with] to remain colleagues for the long term.”

Research assistant professor Pallab Sarker — whom Kapuscinski recruited in 2012 — said that he would join Kapuscinski at UC Santa Cruz in June of next year. He explained that he accepted his position not only because he wanted to continue his work with Kapuscinski, but also because UC Santa Cruz offered him a tenure-track associate research professor position. Sarker also cited UC Santa Cruz’s location as a factor in his decision making.

“Santa Cruz is on the ocean,” Sarker said. “Both [Kapuscinski] and I love the nature. That was another driving factor to take this position.”

Sarker explained that he and Kapuscinski reached an agreement with the College to keep the Kapuscinski / Sarker Laboratory active at Dartmouth until Sarker’s departure next year. At the end of that period, the lab will relocate its equipment to Santa Cruz, and the College will be able to use the laboratory’s physical plant for other purposes, Sarker said. Sarker added that Kapuscinski’s research assistant, Devin Fitzgerald, will also begin working at UC Santa Cruz next year.

Oliver Edelson ’18, who worked with Kapuscinski as a James O. Freedman Presidential Scholar during his sophomore summer, said that he felt a mixture of emotions when he learned that Kapuscinski would be leaving the College.

“I was sad to see her go and that other students wouldn’t be able to experience the incredible mentorship that I received from her,” he said. “[At the same time], I’m also really excited for her. [The position] is a confluence of a lot of her interests and passions.”

Edelson explained that he considered Kapuscinski a “quintessential Dartmouth professor.”

“She loved the opportunity to mentor undergraduates and really open up her calendar and also her networks to connect people,” Edelson added.

Kapuscinski said that she will most miss the opportunity to interact with undergraduates at Dartmouth.

“All Dartmouth undergraduates are incredibly bright,” Kapuscinski said. “I felt really blessed to have worked with a slice of them who were both bright and cared really deeply about how we can solve big environmental problems.”

Sarker echoed Kapuscinski’s sentiment.

“We really love Dartmouth because of the fabulous, fantastic, very wonderful students,” he said. “That we will miss a lot — you [students] are really brilliant.”