Hunter, Altizer named Odum chair and professor

Allyson Mann

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Two Odum School of Ecology faculty have been named to positions honoring Eugene Odum, founder of the school, and his wife Martha Odum, a well-known artist. Dean Mark Hunter has been named the Eugene Odum Chair in Ecology, and Sonia Altizer has been named the Martha Odum Distinguished Professor in Ecology.

The Odum Chair was created in 1985 with gifts from the IBM Corp, with additional gifts made by IBM, the Odum Ecological Foundation and the estate of Eugene Odum. The first faculty member to hold the Odum Chair was Gary Barrett, who retired in 2014. He was followed by current faculty member Rico Holdo, who held the chair from 2016-2020. Hunter joined the Odum School July 1 as dean and serves as the third Odum Chair.

Hunter is a former ecology faculty member, serving from 1995-2006. He returned to the Odum School after 17 years at the University of Michigan, where he held the Earl E. Werner Distinguished University Professorship in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Hunter conducted leading-edge research in the field of chemical ecology, plant-animal interactions, ecosystem ecology, population dynamics and global environmental change.

“When I first came to UGA in the 1990s, I remember meeting with Gene in his office, or grabbing lunch with him at Snelling dining hall,” he said. “Although he had retired by then, he was really inspiring to talk to. Gene was very kind to me as I settled into my first job at Georgia, and it’s a real honor to hold a chair that’s named for him.”

The Martha Odum Distinguished Professorship in Ecology, created with funds from the Odum Chair, was established in 2023 to recognize the foundational contributions and creative work of Martha Odum. Altizer is the first Martha Odum Distinguished Professor. She joined the ecology faculty in 2005, becoming Georgia Athletic Association Professor of Ecology in 2014 and serving a two-year term as interim dean after former Dean John Gittleman stepped down in 2021.

Altizer is an internationally recognized leader in the discipline of infectious disease ecology and evolution, with a particular focus on studying how animal movement and global environmental change alter the transmission and evolution of pathogens. Most recently, she was appointed director of public service and outreach for the Odum School.

“I’ve long been inspired by the breadth and beauty of Martha Odum’s watercolors, and appreciate the way her artwork intertwined with and captured the scientific journeys and field studies of Gene Odum,” Altizer said. “I’m honored to be named the first Martha Odum Distinguished Professor of Ecology, and plan to use these funds to support student research and outreach projects in my lab.”

Eugene Odum, founder of the Institute of Ecology, is widely recognized as the father of modern ecology and is credited with making the term “ecosystem” a household word. Odum and his brother Howard wrote Fundamentals of Ecology, published in 1953, the discipline’s only textbook for more than a decade.

Martha Odum graduated from the University of Illinois with a degree in art and design, working briefly as a professional illustrator. In her landscapes—many of which were made during their travels—she often captured the ecosystems her husband studied. She always carried a sketch pad, a small metal box of watercolors and a vial of water in her bag.

Martha Odum passed away in 1995. Two years later, the Georgia Museum of Art exhibited a collection of her watercolors. As Eugene Odum wrote in the catalog’s introduction, their work was related—she sought “the essence of place” and he “the essence of function.”

Eugene Odum died in 2002. In 2007, the Institute of Ecology became the Eugene P. Odum School of Ecology, the first of its kind in the world.