Jennifer Wolch, noted sustainability scholar, named dean at UC Berkeley

  • April 29, 2009

from the UC Berkeley Web site


BERKELEY — Jennifer Wolch, a leading scholar of urban analysis and planning, will assume the duties of dean of the University of California, Berkeley's College of Environmental Design beginning July 1, 2009 campus offices announced today (Wednesday, April 29).

She will leave her post as professor of geography and urban planning at the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles to become the college's ninth dean and UC Berkeley's fifth current woman dean. Other women deans currently at UC Berkeley include AnnaLee Saxenian at the School of Information, Lorraine Midanik at the School of Social Welfare and Janet Broughton, acting executive dean of the College of Letters and Science and the dean of its division of arts and humanities. Also, Diana Wu is the dean of UC Berkeley Extention.

"Chancellor Robert Birgeneau and I are thrilled to have recruited Jennifer Wolch as dean of the College of Environmental Design," said George Breslauer, UC Berkeley's executive vice chancellor and provost. "She is a highly distinguished scholar with a superb track-record as an administrator, academic entrepreneur and fund-raiser. Her exceptional interpersonal skills bode well for her success as a leader within the college and, more broadly, within the campus. We look forward to collaborating with Dean Wolch as she works to raise the college to new levels of distinction."

Wolch said that under her leadership the college will continue to address critical issues including sustainability, climate change, global poverty, and environmental health and justice through innovative designs, emerging technologies and high-quality multidisciplinary research, training and community engagement.

Her work in urban planning has focused on the delivery of human services for poor and homeless people in Los Angeles, and on sustainability challenges such as urban sprawl. She also is interested in connections between city form, physical activity and public health, and environmental inequities in people's access to urban parks and recreational resources.

As the founding director of USC's Center for Sustainable Cities, Wolch has promoted sustainable urbanism and research into ways to enhance cities' economic vitality, social justice and environmental quality.

She was the founding dean of graduate programs in USC's College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and has won numerous awards for innovative teaching. A general education course she designed in the early 1990s on Los Angeles and the American Dream continues to draw 200-plus students each semester.

Wolch headed the Green Vision Plan for 21st Century Southern California, a planning guide and toolkit for habitat conservation, recreational open space and watershed health. She worked with a multidisciplinary team of architects, urban designers, planners and engineers to develop the City of Los Angeles' strategic plan for its downtown. And her extensive research and urban design, human service delivery, and policy proposals for downtown's Skid Row community won awards from the American Planning Association's California chapter and the Los Angeles section.

She has authored and co-authored over 100 academic journal articles. Wolch also has written, co-authored or co-edited six books, including "Up Against the Sprawl: Public Policy and the Making of Southern California" (2004), "Animal Geographies: Place, Politics and Identity in the Nature-Culture Borderlands" (1998), "Malign Neglect: Homelessness in an American City" (1993), and "Shadow State: Government and Voluntary Sector in Transition" (1990).

She has received awards and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, and the Rockefeller Foundation's Bellagio Study Center. Her honors include the USC College Raubenheimer Award for Excellence in Research, Teaching and Service as well as the Association of American Geographer's 2005 Award for Distinguished Scholarship, the most prestigious honor for scholarship awarded by the association.

Wolch grew up in the East Bay, and her father, who received his Ph.D. from UC Berkeley, was an environmental microbiologist at the Naval Biological Laboratory at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health. She earned a bachelor's degree in anthropology and a master's degree in geography at California State University, Hayward, in 1975 and 1976, respectively. She received her Ph.D. in urban planning at Princeton University's School of Architecture and Urban Planning in 1978.

Her husband, Michael Dear, is a professor of geography at USC. He will join UC Berkeley's City and Regional Planning faculty.

Harrison Fraker stepped down in 2008 to return to teaching architecture after 12 years as dean. Sam Davis, a UC Berkeley emeritus professor of architecture, is serving as interim dean until Wolch begins her post at Wurster Hall.

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