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David and Patricia Atkinson

Visionary Benefactors and Catalysts for Change

David and Pat Atkinson

David and Patricia Atkinson

Ten years ago, sustainability research at Cornell was given a permanent home in the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability.

As the son of a New Jersey poultry farmer and graduate of Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Dave Atkinson recognized the importance of food production to addressing sustainability. Alongside Cornell’s academic leaders at the time, he recognized the folly of trying to "pick out" any one issue—in this case, agriculture—to solve such a complex problem.

“I realized that climate change is probably the biggest issue facing humanity. I felt that Cornell, as the highest-ranked American university with a school of agriculture, was the place to do this. But Cornell’s advantage was its overall excellence in other disciplines combined with an existing culture of encouraging faculty to work across their fields.”
David R. Atkinson ‘60

Dave Atkinson appreciated that such a big idea needed big funding, not only to build a world-class center, but also to sustain it in perpetuity. In 2007, he and his wife Pat seeded the endeavor; three years and $3 million later, the external experts Cornell invited to review the pilot center were amazed at what had been accomplished.

In fall 2010, the Atkinsons made a historic gift of more than $80 million to help establish and make permanent what is now the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability. Their visionary gift, earmarked in part for an endowment, enabled Cornell Atkinson to expand its universe of schools, faculty, students, and external partners dedicated to solving big sustainability problems with unique interdisciplinary solutions. Ten years later, Dave is still instrumental in guiding the center’s mission to improve food security, reduce climate risk, accelerate energy transitions, and advance One Health. As a member of the Cornell Atkinson Advisory Council, he continues to position Cornell Atkinson as an unbiased scientific information source for global audiences, a catalyst for collaborative research, and a partner with entrepreneurs, businesses, nongovernmental organizations, and governments to move society toward a more sustainable future.