Dean of EMS tapped for NSF post

December 09, 2016

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The National Science Foundation has named William E. Easterling III, professor of geography and dean of Penn State’s College of Earth and Mineral Sciences (EMS), to serve as director for the Directorate for Geosciences (GEO) in Washington D.C., which supports fundamental research spanning the atmospheric, earth, ocean and polar sciences.

Easterling will step down as dean on May 31, 2017, and will begin his four-year NSF appointment on June 1, 2017.  He will remain a member of the Penn State faculty during the four years with NSF. 

In naming Easterling, who has been dean at Penn State since 2007, NSF Director France Córdova cited his “extensive leadership experience and a clear vision for the Geosciences Directorate” as the reason for this appointment, along with "a legacy of dealing with challenging research topics head-on to advance America's strategic and economic interests."  As head of EMS, Easterling has strengthened the college's position as a world leader in the earth, material and energy sciences and engineering. He led strategic planning for research initiatives focusing on the food-energy-water nexus, clean carbon energy, additive manufacturing, big data challenges in forecasting, risk and uncertainty in environmental decisions, and more.

“This is an incredible opportunity for Dean Easterling, who will now be in a position to help guide investment in basic research across the nation with the goal of increasing the understanding of issues that impact our environment,” said Penn State President Eric Barron. “Bill always has been a staunch proponent of the value of basic research and has worked diligently to maintain the college’s status as a world-leader in generating the fundamental knowledge needed to find solutions to the many challenges we face as a civilization. The NSF has made an excellent selection.”

As a part of the NSF, the GEO provides about 61 percent of the federal funding for basic research at academic institutions in the geosciences. These investments improve the understanding of the many processes that affect the global environment, including the planetary water cycle, geologic interactions that cross the land-ocean interface, and the behavior of ice sheets.

“The National Science Foundation will benefit greatly from Bill’s knowledge and insight. Unfortunately, though, it represents the loss to Penn State of a strong force in Earth and Mineral Sciences. However, we can be comforted that the nation and the world will benefit from our sharing Bill, through his NSF appointment, with them,” said Provost Nick Jones. “We will begin a search immediately after the winter break for Bill’s successor.”

Easterling currently oversees five highly ranked academic departments: the John and Willie Leone Family Department of Energy and Mineral Engineering; Geography; Geosciences; Materials Science and Engineering; and Meteorology and Atmospheric Science. He oversees two research institutes, Earth and Environmental Systems Institute (EESI), and EMS Energy Institute; and an innovative online education institute, the John A. Dutton e-Education Institute.  As dean, Easterling helped to bring together one of the largest contingents of natural gas experts in the United States in the Institute for Natural Gas Research INGaR); he also works closely with industry, and state and federal government partners to increase the research capabilities of the college.

Easterling has been a member of Penn State's faculty for nearly 19 years. Before his appointment as dean, he served as director of Penn State Institutes of Energy and the Environment (2001-2007), the central coordinating structure for energy and environmental initiatives and research at Penn State. 

He is an internationally recognized expert on how climate change likely will affect the Earth's food supply, and was a convening lead author on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report, Chapter 5, which in 2007 shared the Nobel Prize with former Vice President of the United States Al Gore. He also was part of a team recently recognized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) with the Abraham Lincoln Honor Award in the category of Increasing Global Food Security Outreach. The Abraham Lincoln Honor Award is the most prestigious USDA award presented by the Secretary of Agriculture.

Easterling is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He received this honor for distinguished leadership in global food availability and security through assessment of climate-change impacts, and adaptation and mitigation options. He has authored more than 90 refereed scientific publications in the areas of food and climate, testified before the House Committee on Science and Technology on climate change, and chaired the National Research Council's Panel on the Human Dimensions of Seasonal-to-Interannual Climate Variability. He was named a distinguished alumnus by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC). Easterling received his  doctoral degree in geography and climatology from UNC.

Last Updated December 09, 2016