OSU prof named deputy head of NSF’s Office of Polar Programs


CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University oceanographer Kelly Falkner will leave the university after 19 years to take a leadership position with the National Science Foundation, where she will be the new deputy head of the Office of Polar Programs.

A professor in OSU’s College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences, Falkner will begin her new role with NSF on Jan. 3.

“It wasn’t an easy decision, because I’ve had a great career at OSU and I’ll miss my excellent colleagues, the students, and the supportive staff here,” Falkner said. “But I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to take my polar interests into broader community service.”

Falkner is familiar with the National Science Foundation. In 2007, she took a two-year leave from OSU to serve as the agency’s first program director for integrated Antarctic research. Her stint was so successful, her NSF colleagues named a glacier after her. “Falkner Glacier” is an east-flowing valley glacier stretching four miles long through the Mountaineer Range in Victoria Land.

The irony is that Falkner hardly had any experience with Antarctica when she took the assignment. Most of her work centered around the Arctic, where she has spent much of her career studying how various sources of water entering the Arctic contribute to ocean circulation – and how changing circulation patterns relate to the other major environmental changes in the north.

She also has coordinated OSU contributions to the NSF-funded North Pole Environmental Observatory for several years.

In her new role, Falkner will join the NSF Office of Polar Programs, which manages and initiates the agency’s funding for basic research and operational support in the Arctic and Antarctic regions. The office supports individual investigators, as well as research teams and United States participation in multi-national projects.

“Kelly brings enormous talent, insight and energy to everything she does and all of us here at COAS will miss her – as a scientist, teacher, leader and colleague,” said Mark Abbott, dean of OSU’s College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences. “But the nation will be gaining a leader in an important area of research – how the polar regions are connected with the rest of the planet. We know she will do well.”

OSU faculty have taken on a variety of leadership positions with federal agencies in recent years, most notably when zoologist Jane Lubchenco was named administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration last year. Among the OSU oceanographers in leadership positions are:

  • Mark Abbott, dean of the College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences (COAS) is a member of the National Science Board;
  • Michael Freilich, a COAS professor, is director of the Earth Sciences Division at NASA;
  • Timothy J. Cowles, COAS professor, is program director for the Ocean Observatories Initiative, the National Science Foundation’s signature research project on climate change;
  • Jim McManus, COAS professor, recently served as associate program director of the chemical oceanography program at the National Science Foundation.

And Kelly Benoit-Bird, an associate professor in COAS, received a fellowship from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation – popularly known as a “Genius Award.”