Director’s Chair Becomes Official!

Director’s Chair Becomes Official!

Urbana, Ill. — Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment (iSEE) Director Madhu Khanna was officially appointed the Alvin H. Baum Family Fund Chair on Oct. 12, 2023, at an investiture ceremony at the Funk ACES Library on the University of Illinois campus.

TOP: iSEE Director Madhu Khanna with Joel Friedman, President of the Alvin H. Baum Family Fund. ABOVE: College of ACES Dean Germán Bollero, Khanna, and Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation Susan Martinis. Credits: Julie Wurth, iSEE

Khanna, the ACES Distinguished Professor in Environmental Economics in the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics, has been iSEE Director since July 2022 but has been a leader at the Institute since its inception in December 2013, first as Associate Director for Education & Outreach, then as Associate Director for Research, and then as Interim Director in 2020. Named chairs are important in marking the success of high-achieving faculty, and they are among the highest honors a university can bestow.

“I am honored and humbled to be named the Alvin H. Baum Family Chair,” Khanna said. “Environment and sustainability have been at the core of my research at the University of Illinois. As the Alvin H. Baum Family Chair and iSEE Director, I look forward to continuing to work with colleagues across campus to advance the Baum Family legacy and position iSEE to have a societal impact in the area of sustainability. This recognition reaffirms university support for the pathbreaking work being done by iSEE to advance sustainability on our campus and beyond.”

The Alvin H. Baum Family Fund is the founding benefactor of the Institute and continues to support iSEE educational missions such as the Environmental Leadership Program and outreach programs such as the annual iSEE Congress and Critical Conversations. The Fund, administered by Joel Friedman and Loretta Namovic, is committed to bettering the lives of people through health, human services, education, housing, environmental issues, and the arts.

“We are delighted Dr. Khanna is the second holder of the Alvin H. Baum Family Fund Chair,” Friedman said. “We would note as well that we all owe a debt of gratitude to Wes Jarell for his role as Director of the predecessor Environmental Change Institute.

“Madhu’s outstanding history of research, education, and service to the UIUC community and beyond and to the fields of sustainability, environment, and energy make her the perfect fit for this position. Her spirit of collaboration and her interest in innovation make her a wonderful leader. We have witnessed over the years how her peers in and outside of the University have collaborated with her and respected her, and we are grateful for her work and dedication to the mission of iSEE.”

Khanna has been at Illinois since 1995. Her research examines why producers adopt innovative production technologies to meet demands for food and fuel, such as precision farming, biofuels, and participation in conservation programs. Her work informs stakeholders and policy makers about the cost-effectiveness of various policy approaches to improve environmental quality and their implications for farm profitability, land use, and food and fuel production.

Khanna with daughter Tanvi and husband Pradeep after the investiture.

Khanna served as President of the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association (AAEA) in 2021 and ’22. She has co-edited two volumes of the Handbook of Bioenergy Economics and Policy, and she has served on the Science Advisory Board of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and on the editorial boards of several leading journals. An accomplished scholar and educator, she co-leads the Center for the Economics of Sustainability, served for five years as the Sustainability Theme Leader at the $268M Center for Advanced Bioenergy and Bioproducts Innovation (CABBI), is the lead investigator for a $10M USDA-funded agrivoltaics project for Sustainably Colocating Agricultural and Photovoltaic Electricity Systems (SCAPES), and has helped found a new Agroecosystem Sustainability Center (ASC) on campus. She has authored more than 170 articles and mentored dozens of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. She earned her Ph.D. from the University of California Berkeley.

Khanna succeeds Founding Director Evan H. DeLucia at iSEE, which is focused on supporting actionable, interdisciplinary research, educating the next generation of sustainability experts, and moving the campus toward carbon neutrality and a more sustainable future. Since 2013, iSEE has led the development of two Illinois Climate Action Plans. The Institute has sought innovative funding methods for campus sustainability improvements, pushed forward 75 acres of on-campus solar, supported several geothermal projects, and advocated for the purchase of significant off-campus solar and wind power. iSEE has also established, through partnership with academic units, several student learning opportunities. And, as one of the university’s most prominent research institutes, iSEE has helped facilitate more than $320M in sponsored research funding, including most recently a $147.5M CABBI renewal and the USDA-funded Farm of the Future (Illinois Farming and Regenerative Management, I-FARM).

“Dr. Khanna’s vision for iSEE is remarkable, and she’s put that vision into action. Because of iSEE, the University is a national leader in sustainability,” said Susan Martinis, the Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation at Illinois at the time of Khanna’s director appointment. “The Institute has helped bring in some of the university’s most innovative and important research projects, and iSEE has also established, through partnership with academic units, a campuswide sustainability fellows minor as well as an undergraduate certificate in environmental writing. Madhu’s commitment and drive have positioned iSEE well for even further growth and impact in the future.”

— Tony Mancuso, iSEE Communications & Public Affairs Director