Institute at Brown for Environment and Society

IBES Appoints Three Faculty Members to New Leadership Team

Three members of IBES faculty will join Director Kim Cobb and Director of Undergraduate Studies Dawn King to form an expanded IBES Leadership Team, as outlined in the Institute’s 2023-2028 Strategic Plan.

Training tomorrow's leaders

James Kellner, Associate Professor in IBES and Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology, will serve as IBES’ first Director of Early Career Training and Development. He will primarily work to ensure that IBES-affiliated graduate students and postdoctoral researchers have the proper resources to succeed at and beyond Brown.

“I want to make sure that all of our trainees can move on to fruitful careers in the academy, government, non-profits, the private sector, or anywhere else they want to work,” Kellner remarked, noting that he has long been passionate about mentoring budding professionals.

IBES offers a vast landscape for this work, Kellner added, as the Institute consistently houses over 100 Master’s and Ph.D. graduate affiliates and up to 15 postdoctoral scholars.

As the academic year begins, Kellner’s first step in his new role will be to identify unmet needs among graduate students and postdocs, then develop a plan to address them. 

“I think it’s important that early professionals understand career options in ways that are broadly representative of life after Brown,” Kellner said. “What would it be like to work for a private university versus a public one? To enter corporate finance or sustainability? To serve in the government? Our graduate students and postdocs need to be able to answer these questions, and I want to help them do that.”

Advancing research

Scott Frickel, Professor of Environment and Society & Sociology, will serve as the Director of Research. In order to grow IBES’ research capacity, Frickel will play a key role in fundraising and forming grant proposals — “but a little more down in the weeds,” he said, “my job will entail talking to IBES faculty about their research, and not assuming what people want or need.”

“Something we’ve also talked a lot about is not only broadening our ability to do research … but growing the impact of that research,” Frickel added. “And one place to do that is thinking about how we reach and do more with communities.”

Frickel, whose own work on chemical residues and legacies of urban contamination revolves around the interactions between nature and society, expressed particular excitement about building out this aspect of IBES’ research goals. 

“I want to dig into how we can bring local, regional, global communities into the work we’re doing and get direction from these people about what kinds of knowledge and change they’re looking for,” he said. “Then we can figure out how their needs and interests dovetail with our research.”

In addition to engaging with IBES researchers and community partners, Frickel also looks forward to collaborating with the rest of the Leadership Team.

“ Almost everything that the other team members are going to focus on has something to do with research,” he remarked. “So I don’t want to think about my set of responsibilities in a siloed way or in a vacuum. I want to think about how all of our roles intersect.”

Promoting DEI initiatives

Dan Ibarra, Assistant Professor in IBES and DEEPS, has been appointed Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. He sees his new role as having two aspects: promoting inclusivity within IBES and working to diversify environmental science as a whole.

“Environmental sciences and studies is, historically, a relatively white concentration and field of study,” Ibarra noted. One way to address this, he said, will be to “recruit a broader scope of undergrads, graduate students, postdocs, and faculty that want to interact with environmental problems and that are more representative of our society.”

Ibarra, who is Filipino American and a co-founder of the Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in Geosciences group, remarked that he cares deeply about the issues he will now be directly working to address. 

“I’ve been very fortunate in my career in the sciences, but that’s not true for many people of color, … and that’s something I really empathize with,” he said. “I know a disproportionate amount of people of color who have left science, sometimes because of structural issues.”

In spite of this, Ibarra maintains a positive outlook as he begins his new role: “If it’s a structural issue, that means it’s fixable in my view. You can change the processes of an institute; you can decide that you're going to do hiring differently; you can decide that you're going to initiate various outreach events, or community service events, or community engaged research, and put money towards those things.”

The Leadership Team is already planning to revive IBES’ Diversity & Inclusion Action Committee this semester, revamp the undergraduate curriculum, search for new faculty interested in diverse topics, and consider larger-scale DEI initiatives that IBES can get involved in, both locally and nationally, Ibarra noted.

And like Frickel, Ibarra is enthusiastic about how his role will overlap with others in leadership. 

“On the team, we want to focus on how our processes can always have a DEI lens to them, even if it’s a decision about research funds or changing an ENVS requirement,” he said. “So when decisions like that come up, I’ll be the point person that has the DEI aspect in the back of their mind.”


We look forward to updating you on Leadership Team initiatives as they arise! In the meantime, you can keep up with IBES on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, and by subscribing to our Community Newsletter.