Social Science Research Council Names Dean Alondra Nelson as Next President

February 08, 2017
Alondra Nelson Columbia Dean of Social Sciences

Photo by Michael Dames

The Social Science Research Council (SSRC) has named Alondra Nelson, professor of sociology and dean of social science at Columbia University, as its next president. Nelson, who will begin a five-year term on September 1, 2017, succeeds another Columbia professor, Ira Katznelson, who has led the 93-year-old organization since 2012.

Professor Nelson is a magna cum laude graduate of the University of California, San Diego, and holds a PhD in American studies from New York University. Recruited to Columbia in 2009 from Yale, where she taught in the Departments of African American Studies and Sociology, Nelson’s scholarship is located at the junction of science, technology, medicine, and social inequality. Her publications include Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight against Medical Discrimination, published in 2011, which was recognized with several awards including the Mirra Komarovsky Book Award of the Eastern Sociological Society, and, just published, The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation after the Genome.

After directing the Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality, she became Columbia University’s inaugural dean of social science in 2014, the academic leader responsible for five social science departments (anthropology, economics, history, political science, and sociology) and 28 cross-disciplinary research units. Her responsibilities include academic affairs, faculty appointments, financial planning, and strategic fundraising. Nelson oversees the Academic Review Committee of the Arts and Sciences, the body charged with assessing the schools, departments, centers, and institutes within that division of the university. She also directs Columbia’s participation in the Collaborative to Advance Equity through Research, a White House–initiated affiliation of more than 50 colleges, universities, and nonprofit organizations that are committed to studying how various types of educational, health, and social services may help women and girls from marginalized communities succeed in school and their careers.

“The breadth, depth, and scope of knowledge Alondra Nelson brings to the role of leader of the SSRC is impressive, and precisely what our organization needs at this critical moment,” said Mamadou Diouf, the SSRC Board chair, director of Columbia's Institute for African Studies and professor. “A proven, resolute leader, she is adept at melding intricacies of the hard sciences—medicine, genetics, and health sciences—with the humanistic social sciences, and is an innovative scholar on the issues resonating in policy and research circles today: race, gender, ethnicity, and social inequality.”

At the Social Science Research Council, Nelson will lead an independent, international organization founded in 1923. The SSRC fosters innovative research, nurtures new generations of social scientists, deepens how inquiry is practiced within and across disciplines, and mobilizes knowledge concerned with important public issues. Based in Brooklyn, NY, the SSRC currently administers 22 programs in the US and around the world, including graduate fellowship programs and work on African peacebuilding, the challenges confronting democracies, religion and public life, health and environment, digital culture, and other pressing subjects.

“This is a thrilling appointment of a visionary person who possesses an inventive institutional imagination,” said current president Ira Katznelson, the Ruggles Professor of Political Science and History at Columbia. “As an outstanding scholar and academic leader, Alondra Nelson will advance the central goals of the SSRC at a moment when rigorous social knowledge about fundamental features of the human experience is needed more than ever.”

“We are delighted to have found in Nelson a passionate advocate of the transformational partnership between rigorous research and policy impact. She has a deep understanding of the need to engage with the challenges and imperatives for interdisciplinary developments across social science with particular interest in methodology and contemporary trends in technology and society. We are indeed fortunate to have found such a strong successor to build on the remarkable tenure of Katznelson,” said Dame Sandra Dawson, chair, SSRC Executive Committee.

“I am elated to have been entrusted with this opportunity to lead the venerable Social Science Research Council, which has supported and promoted innovative and impactful social inquiry for close to a century,” Nelson said. “I look forward to advancing the SSRC’s commitment to new and better knowledge in the public interest. It is a special honor to follow Ira Katznelson in this role, an eminent scholar and leader under whose inspired tenure the Council soared to new heights.”

For more information on the SSRC and its programs, please visit www.ssrc.org.