Kai N. Lee is Rosenburg Professor of Environmental Studies, emeritus, at Williams College, and served as Program Officer for Science at the David and Lucile Packard Foundation from 2007 to 2015. He is the principal of Owl of Minerva, LLC, a consulting firm working with philanthropic foundations, universities, and nonprofit organizations.
Lee taught environmental studies and political science at the University of Washington 1973-91. He went to Williams in 1991 to direct its Center for Environmental Studies, retiring in 2007 to take up his post at the Packard Foundation. In both academic institutions, he taught the introductory course in environmental studies. That course forms the basis of his book with Richard Howarth and the late William Freudenburg, Humans in the Landscape: An Introduction to Environmental Studies (W.W. Norton, 2012). Lee is also the author of Compass and Gyroscope (Island Press, 1993), a book on adaptive management that has been widely used in graduate courses in environmental science. In his grant making at the Packard Foundation, Lee developed novel means of linking knowledge with action, so that research funding would be targeted at near-term solutions to problems and seizing new opportunities with near-term practical import. In 1999 Lee was a member of the National Academies board that wrote Our Common Journey, an influential statement of the scientific field of sustainability science.
He has served on more than a dozen committees of the National Academies of Science, Engineering & Medicine, advising government agencies on a range of policies where scientific issues play a critical role. He stepped down in 2017 as founding vice-chair of the Academies’ committee to advise the U.S. Global Change Research Program. He is currently serving as a chapter review editor for the Fourth National Climate Assessment, due in 2018. He has also served on the Science Advisory Board of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Earlier in his career Lee was a White House Fellow at the U.S. Department of Defense, and represented Washington state on the Northwest Power Planning Council, where he oversaw the initial plan aimed at restoring salmon runs in the Columbia River drainage. He holds a degree in experimental physics from Columbia University and a Ph.D. in the same field from Princeton.
He and his wife Dana live in Piedmont, California. They have two grown daughters.