Scholar-researcher Barbara Knuth ’76, who studies natural resource management, was recently named vice provost of Cornell University and dean of the Cornell Graduate School. Knuth, who graduated from Glen Oak School, which merged with Gilmour Academy in 1982, is professor of natural resource policy and management at Cornell.
“My back-up plan if I did not receive tenure at Cornell was to move to the Adirondacks and open a bake shop,” she quips, an attitude that serves her well in being open to new possibilities.
“The open education philosophy at Glen Oak suited me extremely well,” Knuth recalls. It positioned her to thrive in an alternative academic program at Miami University and for her master’s work in environmental sciences, which was multidisciplinary as well.
“This open, welcoming and supportive approach to education and a cross-disciplinary, integrative approach to learning had its foundation for me through my experience at Glen Oak,” the educator says.
Knuth holds two bachelor’s degrees and a master’s degree in engineering, all from Miami. She earned a doctorate in philosophy from Virginia Tech.
“To this day, I derive the most satisfaction and believe I have the most impact when I am working on complex, challenging societal issues that cross disciplinary boundaries,” she says.
At Cornell, Knuth also is senior associate dean in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and associate director of the Human Dimensions Research Unit in the Natural Resource Department. Her research focuses on human attitudes and behaviors toward the environment. Knuth also is on the National Academies’ Ocean Studies Board, which advises the federal government on ocean science, engineering and policy.
As a teacher and administrator, Knuth advocates “listening to all sides of an issue, gathering information, and making a decision that is reasoned and fair for those involved and affected, whether family, friends, colleagues or employer.” She advises students and others to keep a to-do list for small and large goals. “Work on your list daily, but always be ready to take advantage of opportunities that present themselves or that you can create – in other words, actively manage your to-do-list and your goals.”
The close relationships Glen Oak fostered between students and teachers where everyone was on a first-name basis also served her well at Miami and Cornell, she believes. Thirty years later, she still keeps in touch with some of her Glen Oak teachers.
“As a professor at Cornell, I, too, have lived with my family on campus in a student residential setting, and continue to be on a first-name basis with my students,” Knuth says. She is married to Kurt Jirka and they have two daughters: Caroline, who will be a junior at Cornell, and Kelly, who will be a senior at Ithaca High School. Mery (deHaas) Tomsick ’77 is godmother for Knuth’s daughters. Knuth also keeps in touch with Susan Pogany ’77, a freelance art designer in New York.
Knuth likes to read, bake and travel. She also enjoys canoeing, kayaking and backpacking with her family. She developed her interest in backpacking during her mini-week experiences at Glen Oak. “Keep your priorities straight,” she says. “For me this means family first.”