Jessica Hellmann is the executive director of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment and the Ecolab Chair in Environmental Leadership. As director, she provides strategic leadership for the Institute, a mission-based organization working to help build a future where people and planet prosper together.
From the higher education sector, the institute pursues interdisciplinary research that moves the needle on sustainability, builds and supports leaders who put sustainability into practice, and tells stories about sustainability solutions–in Minnesota and around the world. In its work, the institute draws upon more than 200 affiliates and some 40 staff members.
Hellmann’s research focuses on global change ecology, climate adaptation and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. She was among the first to propose and study ways to reduce the impact of climate change through new techniques in conservation management. Hellmann led an important paradigm shift in ecology and natural resource management by showing that adaptation — living with climate change — is just as crucial to the future of humanity and Earth’s ecosystems as slowing and stopping greenhouse gas emissions. Her research group also has shown that differences in the way populations respond to climate change are key to predicting and managing their future. And her research led to the creation of a private venture, Geofinancial Analytics, that monitors methane emissions for investors in publicly-traded companies.
Hellmann counsels state and national governments on natural resource management so that future generations can enjoy the beauty and function of nature as we do today. She also works with governments and corporations to build investment in climate change adaptation, and she has co-authored several climate assessment and adaptation planning efforts, including the biodiversity and ecosystem portions of the Chicago Climate Action Plan and the 2014 National Climate Assessment. She sits on the board of directors of the National Audubon Society, the Science Museum of Minnesota, COMPASS, and Underwriters Laboratories Research Institutes.
Before coming to the University of Minnesota in 2015, Hellmann was on the faculty at the University of Notre Dame. She served as research director of the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index, which assesses and ranks the vulnerability of nations around the world to climate change and their readiness to adapt. In addition, she led the climate change adaptation program at Notre Dame’s Environmental Change Initiative and directed GLOBES, an interdisciplinary graduate training program in environment and society, among other responsibilities. She also founded Notre Dame’s undergraduate minor in sustainability.
Hellmann earned her Ph.D. in biology from Stanford University and served as a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation and the University of British Columbia’s Centre for Biodiversity Research.
Hellmann is an alumna of the prestigious Leopold Leadership Program and the Leshner Leadership Institute at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS); an elected Fellow of the AAAS and the Ecological Science of America; and the recipient of a career enhancement fellowship from the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. She has received a Climate Adaptation Leadership Award of the US Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and a Women’s Sustainability Leadership Award.
Hellmann publishes in leading scientific journals including Science, Nature, Proceedings of the National Academies of Science, BioScience and PLOS ONE. She serves on the editorial board of the Proceedings of the Royal Society, Elementa and Evolutionary Applications and on committees for the Ecological Society of America, the College Board and the National Academy of Sciences.
A skilled science communicator, Hellmann is routinely called upon by leading international media outlets such as CNN, NPR, Fox News, USA Today, The Guardian—and in regional newspapers, radio and TV—to provide expert input on global change and ways to minimize adverse impacts to people and nature.
Originally from Indiana and Michigan, Hellmann enjoys long-distance running, exploring the woods and waters near Ely, Minnesota, and hanging out with her husband and daughter. If she had more free time, she’d be out on a sailboat.