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Forging a major center for ecology

For almost a quarter of a century, Dr. Gene E. Likens has focused on one overriding goal, fostering excellence in his staff. From the moment he took the helm of the Institute in 1983, he had a simple and steadfast plan: hire the brightest people possible and encourage them to blossom professionally. This philosophy, coupled with a dedication to education and collaboration, has helped the organization emerge as one of the world’s leading centers for ecological research.

Looking back on your years as president, what has been your most satisfying achievement?

Nurturing the organization to the point it is at today, strong and vibrant. During my tenure, IES has grown from an almost invisible entity to one with international recognition. Our facilities have also grown, but the most rewarding aspect has been seeing the growth in the organization’s most vital resource, its people. Without a committed and talented staff, our ascent wouldn’t have been possible.

What has been your greatest leadership challenges?

Maintaining and increasing funding for our programs, so that they could have greater impact. Long-term research is critical to understanding and addressing the complex environmental problems we face today. Unfortunately, over the years, funding for such projects has become more and more difficult to secure. This is a shame, because good environmental decision making relies heavily on long-term ecological research.

Papers authored by IES are incredibly influential in the field of ecology. How did you assemble such a strong group of thinkers?

By conducting rigorous international searches and hiring the best people possible. The community that I’ve nurtured here at IES places a high value on academic freedom, the strength of individual ideas, and the importance of collaboration. I believe that a commitment to these three ideals has helped strengthen both staff productivity and the Institute as a whole.

What do you see in the future for IES?

I see a very bright future. Our administrative, technical, and support staff are productive
and dedicated and they share a positive esprit de corps. These are vital ingredients for success under new leadership. In the coming years, the organization is poised to make greater inroads in connecting its impressive scientific output with broader audiences, such as land managers and policy makers.

What will you be doing next?

Building IES has been my passion for over two decades. In the coming years, I look forward to focusing my attention on my long-term research projects at Hubbard Brook, collaborating with international colleagues, and, whenever possible, teaching the next generation of ecological thinkers.