Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture, Texas A&M
A graduate of Florida International University (B.S. in Biological Sciences) and Virginia Tech (M.S. in Anaerobic Microbiology and PhD in Food Science & Technology), Dr. Elsa Murano began her career as an assistant professor in food microbiology at Iowa State University in 1990, where she conducted research in food safety. In 1995, she joined the faculty at Texas A&M University as associate professor, leading the university’s Center for Food Safety as director. In 2001, Murano was appointed by President George W. Bush to serve as Undersecretary for Food Safety at the Department of Agriculture. In that position, she was the highest-ranking food safety official in the U.S. government. One of her main accomplishments was achieving the Healthy People 2010 goals for reduction of illnesses due to E. coli O157:H7 four years ahead of schedule.
In 2005, Dr. Murano returned to Texas A&M, where she was appointed dean and vice chancellor of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the largest such program in the nation. Her leadership resulted in reversing the declining enrollment of the college, the rebranding of the two state agencies responsible for research and extension activities, increasing the funding obtained from the state for research focused on biofuels, and securing funding for the construction of a new four-building, state-of-the-art, $50 million agriculture headquarters complex on the west campus.
In 2008, Murano became the first woman, and first Hispanic president of Texas A&M University, and one of the youngest in the institution’s 133-year history. In her brief tenure, she pursued the development of an Academic Master Plan in a series of strategic planning sessions open to the university community, outlining strategies to enhance teaching, research, and engagement activities in fulfillment of Vision 2020. She enhanced the university’s international programs by establishing the office of Vice President for Global Initiatives and by launching a new center in Costa Rica through a donation valued at $22 million, led the state in establishing a program to cover the cost of tuition for low-income students called “Aggie Assurance”, and launched a campaign to recruit minority students known as “Do You Wonder?”, resulting in significant increases in enrollment of Hispanic and African American students. In 2009, Murano launched the reconstruction of the Memorial Student Center at a cost of $100m, obtained $4 million from a single donor to restore Military Walk, was instrumental in securing $14 million to recruit world-renown research faculty through an increase in the state’s Competitive Knowledge Fund, and significantly improved the diversity of the university’s administration, hiring the first Hispanic dean of the College of Architecture, the first woman dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine, the first woman dean of the College of Geosciences, the first African American Vice President for Global Initiatives, the first Hispanic Dean of Faculties, and the First African American woman as Vice President for Diversity. These and other initiatives resulted in the rise in the university’s rankings by U.S. News & World Reports during her brief tenure from 24th to 21st among public institutions of higher education.
Murano is currently conducting research and teaching in food safety, with lifetime research funding since 1990 of over $9 million, and more than 50 published scientific articles and 7 book chapters. In addition to her teaching and research duties, she currently serves as a member of the Board for International Food and Agriculture Development, a presidentially-appointed position that advises the Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development within the State Department, and serves on the Board of Directors of Hormel Foods Corporation and the Food Processors Institute Foundation. She joined the executive committee for the Center for Food Safety in 2011 and is serving a four-year term.