Jordan Peccia named next Head of Benjamin Franklin College
Jordan Peccia, the Thomas E. Golden Jr. Professor of Environmental Engineering and chair of the Chemical and Environmental Engineering Department at Yale, has been appointed the next Head of Benjamin Franklin College, Yale College Dean Pericles Lewis announced at an event in the college last night.
Peccia will succeed Charles Bailyn, the A. Bartlett Giamatti Professor of Astronomy and Physics, who was selected as the inaugural head of Benjamin Franklin College in 2016.
College heads serve as the chief administrative officer and presiding faculty member within the residential colleges, and help nurture the social, cultural, and educational life there, a role that has become a cherished Yale tradition.
Peccia — who joined the Yale faculty in 2005 with a vision to integrate the problem-solving aspects of environmental engineering with microbial genetics and public health — studies microbes around us and within us, with a focus on how they affect our health and our environment.
He will begin a five-year term at Benjamin Franklin College on July 1.
“I am honored to serve as the next Head of Benjamin Franklin College,” Peccia said. “My message to students is that we are in this together, with a shared goal of building a home base and a college culture that will allow everyone to thrive.”
Peccia is an expert on human exposure to airborne and waterborne viruses and allergens in both the indoor and outdoor environment. His laboratory has patented genetic-based tests to determine if buildings have hidden mold problems, has developed and tested new technologies for inactivating airborne pathogens, and has identified how some microbes improve human health.
Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, he led a team at Yale that pioneered the use of wastewater surveillance to track infectious disease in a community, and he was a member of the group of 36 international scientists who initially warned and later helped to convince the World Health Organization that SARS-CoV-2 could be transmitted by the airborne route. Beyond health, his laboratory has a strong interest in how emissions of the greenhouse gas methane — which is produced by bacteria — can be controlled in wetlands, agriculture, and even in trees. To do all of this, his laboratory maintains close collaborations with groups in the Yale School of Engineering & Applied Science (SEAS), the Yale School of Public Health, and the Yale School of the Environment.
“In research, Professor Peccia seeks to have an impact on big problems facing the world, and when his laboratory can contribute to addressing them, it gets involved,” Lewis said. “He seeks to do the same in teaching and service: he has served as the faculty adviser for Yale’s Engineers Without Borders group for the last 10 years, where teams comprised of Yale students and a professional mentor have designed and built water infrastructure for villages in Cameroon and Tanzania. He also continues to participate as a seminar leader in the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute, where he is working on building the next generation of environmental scientists by leading seminars on climate change and environmental justice for junior high and high school teachers who teach in underserved schools.”
While Peccia has won several research awards, he is most proud of the honors that reflect his dedication to teaching and mentoring, Lewis said. Those include the SEAS Ackerman award for Teaching and Research and Yale’s Graduate Mentor Award.
“He also takes great pride in instilling the idea of balance in students and practices it himself,” Lewis added. Most of Peccia’s personal interests lie outside of academia in order to promote balance and perspective. In addition to gardening and a love of flowers, he is passionate about cooking, and he is an avid runner, biker, and golfer.
Joining Peccia as Associate Head of Benjamin Franklin College will be his wife, Melissa Castleman, a food, wine, and travel writer turned novelist; his 14-year-old son, Julian, who loves anything related to flying; and their eight-year-old Labrador retriever, Dash.
In announcing Peccia’s appointment, Lewis expressed gratitude to Charles Bailyn, the outgoing head of Benjamin Franklin College, and Associate Head Rebecca Tannenbaum “for their extraordinary leadership and service to the Benjamin Franklin community.”
Lewis also thanked the members of the search advisory committee: Rohini Pande, the Henry J. Heinz II Professor of Economics in Yale’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences and chair of the committee; Benjamin Franklin fellows John Hall, senior lecturer in mathematics; Mordechai Levy-Eichel, lecturer in political science; Sarah Miller, associate dean at the Yale School of Engineering & Applied Science; Daniel Prober, professor of applied physics; and Benjamin Franklin students Yaakov Huba ’23; Maxwell Yee ’23; Ryan Brinda ’24; Coco Ma ’25; and Olivia Woods ’26.