Douglas R. Cavener, Penn State professor and Verne M. Willaman Dean of the Eberly College of Science, has announced he will be stepping down next year from his role as dean to resume teaching and research full time in the Department of Biology. He plans to transition to his full-time faculty role in June 2020.
“Since 2015, Penn State has benefited immensely from Doug Cavener’s exemplary leadership as dean of the Eberly College of Science, and for the preceding 15 years as head of our Department of Biology,” said Nick Jones, executive vice president and provost. “I’m very grateful for his service as dean and thrilled that he’ll remain active at the University as a professor of biology, still pushing the frontiers and sharing his knowledge and insights with our students.”
Cavener came to Penn State in 2000 as professor and head of the biology department. He has been dean since 2015, leading the Eberly College as it advances its mission to enrich lives, improve society and address global challenges by producing scientifically trained leaders and innovators, advancing the frontiers of science, and enhancing public understanding of science.
Cavener is internationally recognized for his research in molecular biology, genetics, and evolutionary biology. His recent work has focused on the causes of human diseases, including diabetes and neurodegenerative disorders. He also conducts research investigating the population and ecological genetics of the Masai giraffe and the African savannah elephant in Tanzania. In 2016 Cavener led a team of scientists to sequence the genome of the giraffe for the purpose of determining the genetic basis of the giraffe’s unique morphology and turbocharged cardiovascular system.
“There have been some major advances in my research field just in the past few years, particularly in gene editing and genomics,” said Cavener. “These advances for the first time provide opportunities to explore some of the most complex mysteries of the evolution of life and to develop strategies to cure human diseases, and I’m excited to accelerate my efforts in this work alongside Penn State students and staff.”
At the same time, the Eberly College of Science, at Cavener’s urging, has begun a transformation of teaching to engage students in the classroom in active learning. Having spent little time in the classroom as department head and then dean of the college for the past 20 years, Cavener said, “I’d like the opportunity to return to the classroom environment. My goal is to integrate teaching and research by focusing on learning, discovery and problem solving. However, between now and next June much work remains to advance the mission of the college and I will be fully engaged.”
Cavener is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and a recipient of the Dobzhansky Prize from the International Society for the Study of Evolution. He holds a bachelor of arts in biology from Pasadena College, a master of science in genetics from Brown University, and a doctorate in molecular and population genetics from the University of Georgia.
The University will conduct a national search for Cavener’s replacement, said Jones.