Empowering Youth Through Science: Charlie Trautmann Joins BTI Board

by | Jan 18, 2019

Headshot of Charlie TrautmannBTI is excited to welcome Charlie Trautmann as the newest addition to our Board of Directors. Trautmann brings a wealth of leadership and organizational development experience on non-profit boards, as well as a passion for educating children about science.

Although he began his career as a civil engineer in Boston, life soon brought Trautmann to Ithaca like it has for so many others: as a “trailing spouse” while his wife got her master’s degree at Cornell. “We came to Ithaca 40 years ago for two years, but I then decided to get my PhD. We ended up loving it too much to leave, so we dropped our anchor here, bought a home and started a family,” explains Trautmann.

Trautmann’s interests eventually led him to the Sciencenter, Ithaca’s hands-on children’s science museum, where he was the Executive Director for 26 years before retiring in spring 2017. “I’ve always been interested in education and in bringing up the next generation of kids who will become scientists, communicators and collaborators,” says Trautmann.

Following his retirement from the Sciencenter, Trautmann spent six months on a sabbatical leave at the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society in Munich, Germany, where he collaborated with people working in the humanities and social sciences.

“It was fascinating to see their approach on how to change people’s minds on environmental science and issues,” he shares. “That was really an eye opener for me, and it changed how I think about how to effect change in people’s environmental behavior.”

Trautmann is now a visiting scholar in Cornell’s Department of Human Development, where he is studying how childhood experiences with nature in the first five years of life affect adult decisions related to the environment after age 30.

“I’ve chosen age 30 to capture people who are performing environmentally significant behavior, such as diet, housing and car choice,” Trautmann explains. “We go through a lot of life experiences between the ages of 5 and 30, but I believe there may be roots to environmentally impactful behaviors in the first five years of life.”

Trautmann was drawn to BTI because it is at the forefront of research in the plant sciences, and it has a global reach. “One thing that I like the most about BTI’s mission is the application of the Institute’s research to food security and health-related issues worldwide. How can we translate this research into eventual solutions to problems of nutrition, health and the environment?”

BTI board members cite Trautmann’s scientific and education background, local connections, and his tremendous knowledge and experience in organizational structure and governance as strengths that he brings to the Institute.He has been committed to empowering young people to use science in shaping a better future for themselves, their community and the world at large. That work is exactly at the core of BTI's mission and values. - Jacqueline Heard

“Charlie has the perfect profile for an active member of the BTI Board,” according to Jacqueline Heard, a venture partner at Anterra Capital and chair of BTI’s Nominating and Corporate Governance Committee. “He is a local leader with a long-standing interest in science education and community service,” she explains.

“He has been committed to empowering young people to use science in shaping a better future for themselves, their community and the world at large. That work is exactly at the core of BTI’s mission and values,” Heard adds.

BTI President David Stern agrees. “One of Charlie’s great strengths is in education and in connecting with the public. We need to do more of that, and his experience with public engagement is really huge.”

Stern and BTI Board Chair Gregory Galvin both note that Trautmann has been on a number of boards, which brings its own type of experience. “People who are used to being on boards and in leadership roles know how to ask the right questions,” says Stern.

“Charlie brings a great knowledge and experience in organizational structure and governance,” adds Galvin, the chairman and CEO of Ithaca-based molecular diagnostics company Rheonix, Inc.

Indeed, Trautmann has published a number of articles related to organization development. “I’m very interested in how organizations grow, and how human resources, marketing and fund development work together to make a greater impact,” he says.

While Trautmann has much experience with local boards—like the Sciencenter, Tompkins County Area Development, Discovery Trail and Ithaca Montessori School—he also likes to participate on national and international boards, because they all help inform each other on some level. “BTI is both: it’s local to me because I live literally just down the hill, but it is international in its reach as a leader in plant science research,” he says.

While Trautmann has had an eclectic background with hard science, museum work with kids and now a project in human development, the thread that holds it all together is science, education and children. “I see BTI as another opportunity to broaden my participation in empowering youth through science,” explains Trautmann. “That is my personal mission.”

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