David Stern to Step Down as BTI President

by | Sep 17, 2021

A medium shot of David Sten standing in a field on his farm. He is smiling and wearing a black leather jacket that is slightly worn. The grass is green, and there are fences in the background. On the left side of the picture, a handful of little sheep play. On the right side is a green barn with a metal roof. In the far distance are more sheep, then trees, and then hills and a cloudy sky.

David Stern, BTI’s eighth president, announced that he will be stepping down from that role. Image credit: Rachel Philipson

After leading the Boyce Thompson Institute for 17 years, David Stern has decided to step down as president. He will retain the role during the search for his successor, and plans to lead the Stern lab well into the future.

A remarkable example of ascending through the ranks, David arrived at BTI in 1989 as a young faculty member, rose to vice president of research, and finally to the presidency in 2004. “All along the way, David has maintained his research program, teaching and mentoring students, a feat that has given him a strong scientific leadership perspective,” says Paul Chomet, president of Chomet Consulting LLC and vice chair of BTI’s Board of Directors.

Text saying: “A great leader and a scientist, David showed that the two are not incompatible.” - Greg GalvinDuring his tenure, David has overseen BTI’s evolution during the genomic revolution, as sequencing, bioinformatics and engineering technologies have changed the type of plant science research that can be done. His natural curiosity and openness to take risks have enabled the Institute to remain nimble and act quickly in times of both challenge and opportunity.

David’s many accomplishments include leading the Institute through difficulties such as the Great Recession and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. He also helped launch the multi-organizational Plant Science Research Network, and spearheaded an innovative “cluster hire” of three new faculty members primed for collaborative research, both of which are representative of Stern’s leadership style and ideals.

“I believe that BTI research is best served by seeking and attracting curious, diverse and collaborative scientists, and helping them obtain support for their ideas, particularly for goals that are unconventional, open new areas of study, or have strong potential for societal impact,” Stern says.

Greg Galvin, CEO of Rheonix Inc. and chair of BTI’s Board of Directors, notes that David was reluctant to take on the role of president.

“His career had been that of a research scientist, and he was good at it and happy with it,” Galvin says. “Yet he stepped up to the challenge and learned many skills and gained knowledge in many areas he had not had to deal with before becoming president.”

Text saying: “He has excelled as a leader precisely because he understands that ‘people do science,’ and the job of the president is to enable their success.” - Jane Silverthorne“A great leader and a scientist, David showed that the two are not incompatible,” Galvin adds.

David’s research laboratory focuses on chloroplast biology, bioenergy and nuclear-cytoplasmic interactions, which he has expanded to include applications of these findings that could increase the sustainability of agriculture during this era of climate change.

“Much of the pleasure of my time as president has derived from the strength, resilience and creativity of the staff and leadership around me,” Stern says. “These individuals have been visionary in terms of how we shape and enhance our research, training and outreach programs, and in how we engage with the community and world around us.”

“David’s many accomplishments as BTI president are the result of his deep commitment to the organization, its people, and its mission,” says Jane Silverthorne, chair of the BTI Scientific Advisory Board and BTI board member. “He has excelled as a leader precisely because he understands that ‘people do science,’ and the job of the president is to enable their success. He steps down as president leaving BTI positioned to continue its well-earned track record in research and innovation – and with the potential to strike out in new directions as the world changes.”

A committee of board members and BTI employees, led by Chomet, will manage the presidential search in collaboration with a search firm. Stern will continue in his role until the position is filled, and is willing to do so up until September 2024. More information about the search will be shared this autumn.

Read David’s personal message here, and submit your own message and/or gift in honor of David’s leadership.

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