CFAES Give Today

Department of Agricultural, Environmental, and Development Economics


Dr. Elena Irwin Awarded Distinguished University Professor

May. 17, 2023

- By Miles Baker

Dr. Elena Irwin joined her colleagues in their monthly faculty meeting, unknowing of the morning's planned events. Dr. Irwin is a Professor in the Department of Agricultural, Environmental, and Development Economics (AEDE) and the co-founder and Faculty Director of the Sustainability Institute at Ohio State.

In this seemingly ordinary faculty meeting, Dr. Irwin was selected for the highest academic honor a faculty member at Ohio State can receive: Distinguished University Professor.

Dr. Irwin has been with the AEDE department for most of her professional career, joining the department in 1998. She has amazed and supported her fellow faculty, staff, and students throughout her career. She is widely recognized as one of the world's leading environmental and regional economists. Her impressive research portfolio addresses essential questions on urbanization and land use change, sustainable urban systems, and modeling coupled human-natural systems.

In presenting Dr. Irwin the award, Executive Vice President and Provost Melissa Gilliam stated in particular how crucial Dr. Irwin has been the success of the Sustainabilty Insitute: “As faculty director of the Sustainability Institute at Ohio State, you are pivotal in leading and integrating the mission of sustainability across the university.”

Dean Cathann A. Kress, Vice President for Agricultural Administration and Dean of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) at The Ohio State University, expressed her gradute and pride in Dr. Irwin by stating: “We are deeply proud of the work you do not only in your leadership here in the college but also in the dedication and commitment you have to the interdisciplinary work that we all know is so critical to the future.”

Beyond her research contributions to advancing knowledge of economics and sustainability, she has had a long-lasting impact on the profession and society by mentoring undergraduate and graduate students, post-doctoral scholars, and junior colleagues.

Dr. Madhu Khanna, Professor at the University of Illinois and Fellow of the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association states succinctly: "Dr. Irwin's research has had transformative impacts on the agricultural and environmental economics profession," and "Dr. Irwin has also been a trailblazer in conducting interdisciplinary research with ecologists and regional scientists and a role model for showing how it can be done successfully."

Dr. Irwin expressed her graciousness, particularly highlighting the support for her research from AEDE and the college. Her research is, in particular, interdisciplinary, which can be on such a wide variety of pieces. The support she has received has helped her flourish and has been an integral part of her career.

Interdisciplinary research is challenging and risky, especially for a graduate student or early career researcher. As a leader in integrating economic and geophysical models to coupled human and natural systems, Elena has mentored graduate students and post-doctoral research scholars in working effectively with interdisciplinary teams and developing the skills to communicate research findings and policy insights to a broad audience.

Dr. Hongxing Liu, Assistant Professor in the Department of Economics at Lafayette College, writes, "I have been working with Elena since 2017 on an interdisciplinary project that links farmer decisions, ecosystem values, and water quality, and this has trained me to communicate my research methods to hydrologists and to work closely with a diverse research team. Throughout my learning process, her tremendous support and trust in me helped me grow as a researcher and has inspired me to be a supportive professor to my students."

The Office of Academic Affairs awards the permanent, honorific title of Distinguished University Professor on a competitive basis to full professors with genuinely exceptional teaching records, research, scholarly or creative work, and service. In addition, distinguished University Professors automatically become members of the President's and Provost's Advisory Committee.

In addition, recipients are awarded a $30,000 one-time grant to support their academic work. They are expected to maintain a regular program of teaching/ mentorship, research, scholarly or creative work, and service.

Honorees will be formally awarded the title of Distinguished University Professor at a meeting held by The Ohio State University Board of Trustees later this fall.

The other two faculty members given the title were Stuart Cooper of the William G. Lowrie Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and Stanley Lemeshow of the College of Public Health's Biostatistics Division.

AEDE Faculty

Distinguished Professor honor given to Dr. Elena Irwin by surprise in a faculty meeting