Soil and Crop Sciences welcomes Chris Pires as new department head

person wearing business suit and glasses with trees in backgroundOn Jan. 17, the College of Agricultural Sciences welcomed Chris Pires as the new department head for Soil and Crop Sciences.

Pires brings 30 years of experience in scientific research and engagement on issues related to science and society, including 16 years as a faculty member at the University of Missouri-Columbia (MU).

Pires earned his Ph.D. in botany from the University of Wisconsin-Madison after a B.S. in biology at the University of California-Berkeley, as well as a post-doctoral position in agronomy at the University of Wisconsin. Pires’ leadership includes serving as an associate dean for research at MU, where he co-led the development of four new interdisciplinary centers.

A champion of the land-grant mission

“As a first-generation college student, I know how education transforms and empowers people,” said Pires, who grew up in a rural area of northern California.

This perspective makes him well positioned to authentically engage students and stakeholders from across the urban-rural continuum. At CSU, Pires says he is eager to embrace the challenge of co-creating a compelling vision for sustainable and equitable agroecosystems in the face of climate change.

“Chris’ leadership experience and award-winning mentoring make him an outstanding champion for our students,” said James Pritchett, dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences and director of the Colorado Agricultural Experiment Station. “His passion for our land-grant mission and commitment to service mean he is well suited for Colorado agriculture and our leadership team.”

Research excellence

A classically trained botanist, Pires’ research has focused primarily on evaluating plant traits, particularly of crop Brassicas (e.g., cabbages, cauliflower) under different stress conditions. His lab was one of the first plant biology labs to bring genomic approaches (especially transcriptomics) to comparative biology.

Pires most recently served as the dean of science and chief science officer for the New York Botanical Garden, where he helped guide them through strategic planning for 2030. Prior that that he spent 16 years as a faculty member and three years as an associate dean for research at MU.

At MU, Pires developed a competitive track record where he won 12 external grants totaling over $7.5 million as well as receiving a myriad of prestigious honors such as being named a 2017 AAAS Fellow and a 2015 and 2018 Thomson Reuter’s Highly Cited Researcher.

A collaborative approach to leadership

The soil and crop sciences department at CSU continues to play a leading role in crop breeding and genetics, crop production systems, soil ecology, microbiome sciences, precision agriculture, agriculture extension and irrigation management.

“Chris joins the college at an exciting time,” said Pritchett, “and he will be an important player in translating the department’s expertise into tangible impact for stakeholders across the state.”

When addressing challenges, Pires says he starts by creating a shared understanding of the problems and opportunities that exist, while also acknowledging that various stakeholders may have different priorities. He seeks to nurture win/win outcomes and emphasizes the importance of fostering a genuine sense of belonging and trust.

Pires noted that the opportunity to build on a strong foundation of world-class expertise in research, teaching and engagement was an important factor that drew him to CSU.

“CAS embodies the land-grant promise to solve practical problems and to train the next generation of leaders,” said Pires. “I’m looking forward to connecting people and projects across the themes of food, plant and animal health, and environmental sustainability.”