Agriculture News

October 14, 2016

Board of Trustees names first chair for environmental sustainability

Jeffrey Dukes chair Jeffrey Dukes, the inaugural Belcher Chair for Environmental Sustainability in the College of Agriculture. Download image

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - The Purdue University Board of Trustees has named Jeffrey Dukes the inaugural Belcher Chair for Environmental Sustainability in the College of Agriculture.

Dukes is a professor in the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources and the Department of Biological Sciences, as well as director of the Purdue Climate Change Research Center. His research focuses on understanding how ecosystems respond to environmental changes, such as climate change and biological invasions, and on how to minimize the disruption of ecosystems from these changes.

Dukes directs the Boston-Area Climate Experiment, in which he, his lab members and colleagues explore ecosystem responses to changes in temperature and precipitation. He also leads a global network of experimenters and modelers involved in environmental research, known as the Integrated Network for Terrestrial Ecosystem Research on Feedbacks to the Atmosphere and Climate, or INTERFACE. The group incorporates realistic biological responses into Earth system models used to project future changes in climate and designs field experiments and computer simulations that can improve the performance of ESMs.

He was named a 2016-2017 Leshner Leadership Fellow by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Fellows are chosen for demonstrating leadership and excellence in their research careers and interest in promoting dialogue between science and society.

"It is fitting that Dr. Dukes is the inaugural Belcher Chair for Environmental Sustainability. Jeff has devoted his career to better understanding how human actions - from individual actions to the aggregate behavior of the entire human population - affect natural and managed ecosystems, with the goal of mitigating any adverse impacts on the environment," said Jay Akridge, Glenn W. Sample Dean of Agriculture. "We in the College of Agriculture are very grateful to Mr. Dick Belcher and the late Mrs. Suzanne Belcher for their commitment to and support of the vital work going on here in the area of environmental sustainability." 

The Belcher Chair is an endowed position funded through a gift from Dick and Suzanne Belcher and supplemented through the Faculty Excellence Challenge Match. The Belchers met at Purdue, with Dick earning his bachelor's degree in agricultural economics in 1956 and Suzanne her bachelor's degree in speech pathology and audiology in 1957.

Dick Belcher opened First Federal Savings Bank in Rochester, Indiana, in 1966. Suzanne was a speech pathologist in Fulton County and Argos, Indiana, schools for 25 years. The Belchers were married nearly 57 years. Suzanne died in 2014.

Longtime Purdue supporters, the Belchers have funded the Richard and Suzanne Belcher Agriculture Scholarship and the Chester B. Biddle Memorial Scholarship, which honors Suzanne Belcher's father. They have also supported the College of Liberal Arts, Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences, and the John Purdue Club.

Suzanne Belcher was an avid birdwatcher, and Dick Belcher's Mishawaka branch of First Federal Credit Bank is the first bank in the state to become LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified.

"I'm thrilled that Purdue has a chair in environmental sustainability now, and the fact that I'm the first one to hold it is truly humbling and exciting," Dukes said. "Chairs like this give faculty the freedom to think a little bigger and the resources to do a little more, and this is a topic that is dear to my heart and that I feel passionately about. It also gives me a real sense of responsibility that I need to honor the legacy of Suzanne Belcher and the vision that she had and that her husband Dick has for helping Purdue address our world’s and our state's most pressing environmental challenges."

The Board of Trustees' naming of Dukes as the Belcher Chair comes almost two years to the day after Purdue University President Mitch Daniels gave the Belchers the President's Council Pinnacle Award, the highest recognition for philanthropic contributions to Purdue.           

Writer: Brian Wallheimer: 765-532-0233,  

Sources: Jay Akridge, 765-494-8391,

Jeffrey Dukes, 765-494-1446,

Agricultural Communications: (765) 494-8415;
Darrin Pack, 
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