USA (Harvard University) Hopi Hoekstra named next FAS dean

Hoekstra is currently the Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology in the Departments of Molecular and Cellular Biology and Organismic and Evolutionary Biology and serves as the curator of mammals in the Museum of Comparative Zoology. She is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and a longtime member of the Broad Institute.  She will become dean on Aug. 1, succeeding Gay, who will become Harvard’s 30th president on July 1.

Gay also announced Monday that Emma Dench, currently dean of the Harvard Kenneth C. Griffin Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, will serve additionally as interim dean of the FAS from July 1 until Hoekstra assumes the deanship.

“Hopi Hoekstra is a pathbreaking scholar with a highly interdisciplinary outlook and inclusive style, a devoted educator known for her engaging lectures and her generous mentoring of both undergraduates and graduate students, and an academic leader experienced in addressing a broad array of opportunities and challenges facing the FAS and the University,” said President-elect Gay in a message to the FAS community. “She radiates an enthusiasm for all she does, and she will bring to the deanship a combination of thoughtful judgment, intellectual curiosity and breadth, deep integrity and values, and an appetite for innovation and collaboration.”

Calling Hoekstra a person of “remarkable human qualities,” Gay added: “Knowing something myself about the FAS deanship, I am delighted at the prospect of her move to University Hall, and confident that she will lead the FAS with foresight, ambition, and wisdom.”

“For as long as I can remember, I have experienced the world with a deep sense of curiosity and wonder,” said Hoekstra. “That same sense of curiosity is what excites me about the prospect of becoming dean. Harvard is filled with amazing people doing amazing things, and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences is at the vital center of an ecosystem that’s awe-inspiring and energizingly diverse. I’m deeply grateful to Claudine Gay for entrusting me with a set of responsibilities that she knows so well, and to all the faculty, students, staff, postdocs, alumni, and others who make Harvard what it is.

“This is a time of extraordinary opportunity as well as challenge for us, as we work not only to create new knowledge but to do what we can to contribute to a better world,” she continued. “I’m eager to partner with President Gay and work with colleagues in the FAS and beyond at a critically important moment for Harvard and for higher education.”

 An evolutionary geneticist who was tenured in 2010, Hoekstra is among the University’s most distinguished scholars.  She was named this spring as the Jianming Yu Professor of Arts and Sciences, a five-year term appointment that recognizes select tenured faculty members for excellence in leadership, teaching, and scholarly achievement. A Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator since 2013, she is an influential expert on the genetic basis of adaptation in mammals, with a focus on the molecular changes responsible for traits that affect the ability of animals to survive and to reproduce in the wild. Her lab focuses on natural variation, primarily in wild rodents, to understand the diverse and interactive causes of evolutionary change and to predict future adaptation in a changing environment.

Hoekstra has also demonstrated a deep commitment to the University through her service. In 2020-21, she chaired the FAS Tenure Track Review Committee, leading a highly consultative exercise with colleagues from across departments and disciplines. She was one of several FAS faculty members chosen to serve on the faculty advisory committee for the University’s 2017-18 presidential search. In addition, she has been a member of the FAS Faculty Council, the Provost’s Academic Leadership Forum, the FAS Committee on Appointments and Promotions (which considers senior faculty appointment cases from across the FAS), the University-wide Life Sciences Steering Committee, and the Provost’s Advisory Committee.  She also served as vice president and president of Harvard’s Phi Beta Kappa Society from 2016 to 2020, and she has been a member of the Harvard Brain Science Initiative faculty steering committee and the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology’s task force on diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Hoekstra is also a widely recognized teacher and mentor, having taught the foundational undergraduate course “Life Sciences 1b” (“An Integrated Introduction to the Life Sciences: Genetics, Genomics, and Evolution”) for a decade. She also co-chairs a monthly seminar series on evolutionary genomics, which brings together more than 100 faculty and trainees from Harvard, MIT, the Broad Institute, Boston University, Tufts, and other institutions. She was named a Harvard College Professor in 2014, in recognition of her outstanding undergraduate teaching, and she received the Fannie Cox Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in 2011.

“Hopi is one of our most widely respected professors for very good reasons,” said Provost Alan M. Garber, who co-led the search with Gay. “She’s a superb scientist who is deeply devoted to the University, understanding its complexities and all that makes it special. She has a heartfelt commitment to the success of our students, staff, and faculty. She epitomizes the best of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.”

Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, Hoekstra received her B.A. in integrative biology from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1994. She completed her Ph.D. in zoology in 2000 as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute predoctoral fellow at the University of Washington, Seattle. She then moved to the University of Arizona as a National Institutes of Health postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. In 2003, she became an assistant professor in the Division of Biological Sciences at the University of California, San Diego, before joining Harvard in 2007.

Her approach to science is both innovative and interdisciplinary. As noted by the National Academy of Sciences, her research spans “the fields of ecology, evolution, behavior, genetics, genomics, development and neurobiology, and is typified by its integrative nature — working in both the lab and field to make connections between genotype, phenotype and fitness.”

Honored as a fellow of the National Academy of Sciences, she has also been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Philosophical Society. Her research has been recognized with the American Society of Mammalogists’ Merriam Award and the National Academy of Sciences’ Lounsbery Award, among other honors.

Beyond Harvard, Hoekstra is widely engaged in service to the academic profession and the scientific community. She recently concluded a three-year stint as chair of the National Academy of Sciences’ section on evolutionary biology. She has also served as president of the Society for the Study of Evolution, vice president of the American Society of Naturalists, chair of the jury for the National Academy of Sciences’ Lounsbery Award, director of the Genetics Society of America, and as an external reviewer for programs at Amherst College, Brown University, the California Institute of Technology, Cornell University, UC Berkeley, UC Davis, and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

In announcing the appointment, Gay expressed her gratitude to members of the FAS community for their advice. “Along with Provost Alan Garber, I want to thank the many people who contributed their counsel to the dean search,” said Gay. “My special thanks go to the members of the faculty advisory committee, who provided essential perspectives from across the FAS and beyond and who helped guide the search toward an excellent outcome.”

Gay offered special appreciation to Dench for her willingness to serve as interim FAS dean. “Emma continues to serve with dedication and distinction as dean of the Harvard Griffin Graduate School of Arts and Sciences,” Gay said. “Agreeing to serve as interim FAS dean is just one of the many ways she has shown herself to be among Harvard’s most committed academic leaders.

“For today, I hope you will join me in warmly welcoming Hopi Hoekstra as the next dean of the FAS,” said Gay. “Just as I have throughout my time in University Hall, I know she will be counting on the counsel and support of a great many of you as she prepares to lead the FAS — and to help Harvard pursue its highest aspirations in the time to come.”