Dean Chris Poulsen Leads CAS with Focus on Sustainability, Equity

Chris Poulsen (Photo credit: Chris Larsen, University Communications)

Hiker, amateur mushroom hunter—and marshmallow?

These are just some of the ways that Chris Poulsen, incoming Tykeson Dean of Arts and Sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences, is described by former colleagues at the University of Michigan.

Don’t let the descriptors throw you, though. Poulsen is as solid as his research, which centers on earth system models, similar to those used to project future climate scenarios. Poulsen’s research group uses the models to study past climates and how previous climate change events might inform the future.

At U-M, Poulsen was associate dean for natural sciences in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts and the Henry Pollack Collegiate Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences and Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering. He has published more than 130 peer-reviewed articles on topics including climate change through Earth history, mountain uplift-induced climate change, the dynamics of extreme past climates, and water isotopes as an environmental tracer. Poulsen received the university’s John Dewey Award for excellence in teaching and he is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Geological Society of America.

The marshmallow reference refers to a tradition of U-M deans wearing team Halloween costumes. He was the marshmallow in a s’mores group. Another year he was the rock in a rock-paper-scissors trio.

“Of course, Chris was the rock!” says Alexandra Minna Stern, who worked with Poulsen when both were associate deans. “In all seriousness, Oregon will benefit from Chris’s deep commitment to addressing sexual and gender harassment in academia. Thanks largely to him, the college designed and implemented new policies and support for faculty and graduate students experiencing hostile or micro-aggressive work environments. Chris is collegial, thoughtful, and attentive to details and the big picture.”

Poulsen’s first meetings included one with Janet Woodruff-Borden, acting provost and executive vice president (Chris Larsen, University Communications)That big picture includes how to create equity for faculty and students and bring sustainability into the lab and other university functions. One of Poulsen’s last accomplishments at U-M was leading a report on ways for the college to become carbon-neutral in teaching and research.

Poulsen also reduced gender disparity in the faculty salary structure, organized trainings on preventing sexual harassment, and diversified faculty search committees. During his eight-year chairmanship of the earth and environmental sciences department, the number of female faculty nearly doubled (from seven to twelve). As associate chair for graduate studies, he collaborated with the graduate school to bring underrepresented undergraduate students to campus to demystify applying for graduate school.

“Chris’s pioneering work in this area continued as he assumed the role of associate dean,” says Fiona Lee, who worked as associate dean of diversity, equity, inclusion, and professional development while Poulsen chaired the environmental sciences department. “Reaching beyond his own discipline, we worked with multiple departments in the natural sciences to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion among undergraduate students, graduate students, and faculty.”

An avid hiker and outdoor enthusiast, Poulsen grew up with his family on a remote hillside in Helena, Montana. “We had only three television channels, all with poor reception, and the nearest kids our age lived a mile away on the other side of the mountain,” Poulsen says. “It was also very liberating. My brother and I would roam the hillside exploring and playing. I credit growing up in Montana for fostering my love of the outdoors and the natural world and my environmentalism.”

Poulsen received his BA in geology from Carleton College and PhD in geosciences from Pennsylvania State University.

“The work that public universities do educating the next generation of leaders, creating new knowledge, and serving the public is important and makes the world better, more just, more equitable, more sustainable,” he says. “Oregon is deeply committed to its public research mission, to student success, to addressing societal challenges, and to advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion. The opportunity to serve as the dean of CAS at UO seemed like the perfect fit for me.”

In his announcement of Poulsen’s hire, UO interim president Patrick Phillips said, “The search committee and I were struck by Chris’s experience as a leader in a college of similar size and complexity to CAS who also has the academic credentials and interests that align so well with UO priorities and initiatives. I am also pleased to be bringing someone to UO with demonstrated commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

Poulsen, his wife, Lea, and their three children are excited to start a new chapter in Eugene. ​​​​​

If his fungi foraging skills are any indication, Poulsen is ready for life in Oregon. On a summer vacation in Maine, he went mushroom hunting for the first time with his brother-in-law, a seasoned mushroom hunter, and found the coveted hedgehog variety. His brother-in-law was a bit cautious about eating them, but after consulting a guidebook Poulsen felt confident. “Only 3 percent of mushrooms are poisonous,” he says. “So I figured it was worth the risk.”

And the result? “It was delicious!”

—By Emmily Bristol, BA ’98 (English), strategic communications generalist, University Communications

—Photos by Chris Larsen, University Communications