Chapter 8: Evolution of the ERC Leadership Teams and Post-ERC Careers

8-A       Leadership Team Structure

Early in the history of the ERC Program, part of the reason that ERCs went “against the grain” in academia was that their leadership structure and management style were highly nontraditional, even iconoclastic. In contrast to the traditional academic departmental structure with a Chair and semi-autonomous single investigators, ERCs resembled small corporations, with a Center Director, a hierarchical staff structure, and faculty whose research had to be guided by the vision for the center’s impact on knowledge and technology and by its leadership. although the chain-of-command was less rigid than in  the typical corporate culture of the 1980s. ERCs typically reported to the Dean of Engineering and did not grant degrees or tenure, and drew their faculty and students from across the departments. Thus, ERC faculty and students commonly came to share their loyalty to the departments with the ERCs. Overall, the culture of ERCs as research units stood in stark contrast to the academic status quo.

It is therefore useful to examine the various leadership positions in ERCs and how they evolved over time. In this chapter we will also profile many of the ERC leaders, faculty, and staff members who capitalized on their ERC experience to achieve prominent positions in academe, industry, and government as well as recognition at the national level for their achievements.

8-A(a)    Directors/DDs/Executive Directors

In the Gen-1 ERCs (established 1985–1990), all centers were required to have a Center Director and an Administrative Manager/Director, or AD (this term varied). Other positions were left up to the Director’s discretion; but in most centers established during the 1980s, these two positions formed the strong center of gravity of the ERC. Within NSF, those ERCs in which the Director/AD partnership was especially dominant were sometimes jocularly referred to as “Mom & Pop centers.” This management structure was usually not the most successful construct because it didn’t encourage teaming or criticism.

From the beginning of the Program, ERC Directors were strong-willed, entrepreneurial individuals who were willing and able to (1) pull together disparate groups of faculty from across engineering departments (and sometimes even from other schools on campus); (2) make deals with deans, provosts, and university presidents for space, funding, and concessions on university policies governing promotion and tenure, overhead return, and other issues; (3) successfully attract a range of industry partners; and (4) win an ERC against strong competition from scores of other would-be ERC teams. (See the ERC Best Practices Manual chapter on Leadership[1] and in particular the profile of the “Ideal” ERC Director.[2])

Initially they tended to be fairly autocratic in management style. Funds were often distributed in a unilateral way, based solely on the Director’s judgment of a faculty member’s or a project’s worth. In some cases, funds were doled out to an ERC’s partner institution(s) in an ad hoc fashion. One consequence of this was that the coherence of these early stage ERCs’ research programs often depended on the ability of the Director to formulate a clear strategy and to shape projects accordingly. However, this was not always optimal and as a result, early on many ERCs looked like collections of projects without a strong strategy. This weakness stimulated the requirement for strategic research planning and milestone charts that plotted the timing of major advances over time. This requirement plus pressures from NSF and site visit teams to develop a more team-based structure may be reasons why Center Directors began to include more faculty input in planning. 

The Directors of the first two or three classes of ERCs tended to be cordial but wary in their dealings with each other at NSF. Other government funding programs had typically engendered an attitude of competition among grantees; and in the case of ERCs, there was the expectation among the first centers that they would eventually be recompeting against their counterparts for another round of funding. But as time went on, the collegial nature of the ERC Program, where inter-center cooperation rather than competition was encouraged, began to be apparent and accepted by the Center Directors. The ERC Program Directors and especially Program Leader Lynn Preston encouraged this spirit of collegiality as a way for all members of the ERC Program to learn what worked best in addressing the Program’s complex goals.

Most Center Directors quickly found that the duties of Director were too demanding for one individual to manage effectively. The profile of the “Ideal” ERC Director[3] describes, essentially, a type of Renaissance man or woman and the enormous range of responsibilities this person must carry out. In those centers that had an affiliate or partner institution, there was usually an Associate Director from that school; but that ancillary role did not solve the Director’s workload problem.

Consequently, Center Directors began to augment the leadership team with professional staff responsible for various areas of center operation. As was described in Ch. 6, “Industrial Collaboration and Advancing Technology,” a few Directors experimented with the role of an Executive Director or Operations Manager, a kind of Chief Operating Officer such as Jim Williams at the Data Storage Systems Center. This individual was typically responsible for facilities construction and management and other “nuts-and-bolts” tasks apart from the administrative duties of the AD. But the overlap with the duties of the AD could on occasion engender confusion, especially as the role of the AD became stronger (see following Section 8-A(b).)

By the mid-1990s, the Executive Officer role began to be redefined and broadened in the form of a Deputy Director (DD). For many strong-willed, Type-A Center Directors, sharing leadership with another manager did not come naturally. It required a clear and sometimes delicate division of labor and a unique set of characteristics on the part of the DD. Perhaps the single individual who, early on, best exemplified the nature of the Deputy Director as a strong junior partner to the Director was Khalil Najafi, Deputy Director of the Wireless Integrated Microsystems ERC at the University of Michigan. (whose Director was Ken Wise).[4] In 2003 he codified this role for new ERC DDs.[5] His first slide answered the question, “Most Important Function of a Deputy Director?” in a tongue-in-cheek way:  “(1) Self-preservation! Do everything possible to ensure that the Director never leaves or quits! (2) Avoid becoming the Director. (3) Thank you. Any Questions?” 

Recognizing the value—even the necessity—of a Deputy Director, NSF’s FY 1998 ERC Program Announcement cited as one of the “expanded features” of Gen-2 ERCs, “Further definition of ERC leadership teams to include deputy directors” and other key leadership team positions. By that point, every newly formed ERC was required to have a DD. As multi-university ERCs with four, five or even more partner institutions involved along with the lead institution appeared, a Campus Director for each partner became the norm, further complicating the task of directing an ERC and making a DD an even more vital part of the ERC leadership team.

Eight current and former ERC Directors responded to a call to write an essay describing their experiences and perspectives on the role of leading an ERC. These “Center Director Experience Essays” are available here.

8-A(b)    Administrative Managers/Directors

In most ERC-hosting institutions in the early days of the Program, the most nearly comparable model for this position was the departmental secretary. To be sure, that role was not an insignificant one. But it did not compare with the demands and responsibilities placed upon the Administrative Director (AD) of an ERC. That person was responsible for keeping track of the center’s budget; meeting its many obligations to NSF, such as data collection, annual reporting, and ensuring that NSF’s guidelines were followed; setting up meetings with industry, NSF, and many visitors; organizing the NSF site visits; and managing the office staff. In short, it had many of the aspects of the Executive Officer, or Chief Operating Officer, role as described above.

However, because of the traditional image of this type of role in academia, in the first several classes of Gen-1 ERCs there was a clear duality in the responsibilities and authority invested in ADs, and in the kinds of people in the position. Some were full-fledged professionals, often with Master’s degrees in business or equivalent experience, and were accorded corresponding respect throughout the center; others were seen as a sort of executive secretary or office manager—often having been hired from such positions—and their performance of their complex duties was made more difficult as a result. Over time, this dichotomy rapidly resolved in favor of the more professional status and image, since a high degree of professionalism and authority was required to do the job successfully.

Some early ADs led the way in defining this central managerial role of the AD in an ERC. Examples were Nancy Bulger at the Purdue University Center for Intelligent Manufacturing Systems (Class of 1985), Marianne Hassan at Duke University’s Center for Emerging Cardiovascular Technologies (Class of 1987), Penny LeBourgeois at North Carolina State’s Center for Advanced Electronic Materials Processing (Class of 1988), Darlene Joyce at the University of Minnesota Center for Interfacial Engineering (Class of 1988), and Sue Lewis at the University of Southern California’s Integrated Media Systems Center (Class of 1996).

Initially the great majority of ADs were women; but as the importance of the role grew, along with the prestige and compensation associated with it, more men began to enter this position on an equal footing with their female counterparts. The Administrative Director/Manager position had clearly come into its own as a vital part of the ERC leadership team. As ERCs became more multi-institutional, the complexity of the job increased markedly. The ERC Best Practices chapter on Multi-University Centers noted that, “…to all of the day-to-day challenges of operating an industry-oriented, multidisciplinary Center on a university campus are added the extra dimensions—geographic, logistical, administrative, legal, cultural, and psychological—of requiring separate institutions to collaborate closely.”[6]

In such an environment, it could fairly be said that the AD and the Center Director were often the two individuals with the broadest awareness of the “big picture” of all aspects of the ERC’s operations.

As the ADs began to understand how complex their positions were and recognize that most of them were not being paid at levels reflecting their responsibilities and the scope of their roles in the ERCs, they joined together to develop a position statement that each could use to bargain for new salaries and job titles. This negotiation was often a complex undertaking because many of their salaries were restricted by university regulations, especially at public universities.

Several supporting features assisted ERC ADs greatly in the performance of their work. One was the growing prevalence, by the mid-1990s, of a Financial or Business Manager who was hired to handle the budgetary/accounting aspects of the center, reporting to the AD. Another was the establishment of an ERC Consultancy for ADs in 1999. A small group of experienced ADs would travel to newly formed ERCs (or to new ADs at existing centers) and spend a day or two providing the AD with a detailed orientation regarding all aspects of the AD’s duties. In 1996, the Administrative Management chapter of the ERC Best Practices Manual, written by ADs. was published, providing a needed “how-to” guide.[7]

As important as these concrete steps were, there was also something less tangible: the strong collegiality that ADs quickly developed across all the ERCs. This esprit de corps helped to provide collective moral support as well as advice and counsel. As early as 1993, the ADs held separate closed sessions, several hours long, during the ERC Program Annual Meeting to share experiences and procedural advice. These closed sessions were later augmented by an annual two- or three-day Summer Retreat, organized by and for ADs at an ERC or a city usually somewhere in the Midwest, which facilitated further information-sharing and social bonding.

By the mid-2000s, two ADs in particular took responsibility for further increasing this across-ERC information sharing. Kevin Costa, at the UC-Berkeley Synthetic Biology ERC (Synberc, Class of 2006), organized a Google Groups which allowed online Q&A-type discussions as well as monthly teleconferences in which most ADs participated. Second, Janice Brickley, AD at UMass-Amherst’s ERC for Collaborative Adaptive Sensing of the Atmosphere (CASA, Class of 2003), emerged as one of the all-time outstanding ADs. In particular, she worked closely with NSF staff to better organize and clarify the ERC reporting guidelines, which had been in some instances confusing and also subject to frequent changes over the years. Brickley was a member of the ADs Consultancy and would often lead sessions at Summer Retreats and during the ERC Program Annual Meetings to update ADs on the new requirements and procedures, as well provide overviews of the AD’s role in general.[8] She also led the updating and conversion of the Administrative Management Best Practices chapter to an online user-updatable wiki format. Finally, starting in 2011 she joined the NSF team in briefing the faculty and staff of new ERCs, carrying out a special training session for all new ADs at one of the new ERCs with Barbara Kenny, an ERC PD.

In many ways, then, the AD was and is the “glue” that holds all the disparate elements of an ERC together.

8-A(c)    Research Thrust Leaders

As cross-disciplinary centers with an engineered-systems focus, the research of ERCs was from the beginning organized around “research thrusts”—usually three to five in number—that addressed specific goals in fundamental research and research on enabling technologies and systems. Over time, it became apparent that to function effectively each thrust should have a faculty researcher in that thrust formally designed as Thrust Leader, reporting usually to the Center Director but in some cases through an Associate Director for Research or the Deputy Director. They are in close contact with the progress of faculty and student researchers in their thrust area.

The Thrust Leaders were and still are essential to the integration of the center’s research, as they ensure the coordination across thrusts that keeps the center on track toward its mission and system goals. As Best Practices Chapter 3, Research Management, describes:

Within the ERCs, research thrust leaders are at the heart of research management. They are the ones expected to lead a diverse group of researchers to deliver on ERC research and technology-translation goals in a timely manner and within a limited budget.[9]

Essentially, they keep the work of the center in alignment with the center’s strategic research plan as depicted in its particular formulation of the 3-plane strategic planning chart.

Research Thrust Leaders were always considered part of the ERC Leadership Team. For example, at the Computer Integrated Surgical Systems (CISST) ERC at Johns Hopkins University (established in 1998), Thrust Leaders joined with the Director, the Deputy Director, AD, and Education Director in weekly management meetings. These meetings often concerned operational issues (e.g., the next site visit or proposal planning), but they were also essential in formulating and maintaining a coherent strategy for the CISST ERC.  Still, initially they worked behind the scenes and their role did not receive as much attention as that of the Center Director and even the Deputy Director—they were the classic middle-managers, with much responsibility but little authority. For example, it was not until 2005 that Thrust Leaders began having their own closed sessions at ERC Program Annual Meetings, a feature of the meeting that all other functional groupings in the ERCs had found useful for many years. It was around that time that the vital contribution of Thrust Leaders and their role—something that had always been well recognized within the centers themselves—began to receive greater visibility across the ERCs and within the ERC Program at NSF.

8-A(d)    Industrial Liaison Officers

As was described in Chapter 2, Section 2-D(c), the concept of an ILO was devised by the Director of the ERC at Lehigh University around 1987; the position was ably filled by Bill Michalerya, the first ERC ILO. Recognition of the value of this role in the ERC leadership team grew until it was finally required of all ERCs starting with the first Gen-2 Class of 1994-95. (See Chapter 6, Section 6-D(b). As in the case of ADs, NSF provided support for ILOs not only in the form of a Best Practices chapter,[10] but also with an ILO Consultancy headed by Erik Sander, ILO at the University of Florida ERC. In addition, around 2010, ERC PD Deborah Jackson was assigned to manage the ILO function across ERCs in order to improve coordination and collaboration among the ERCs (a role she still holds as of the time of writing).

Several ILOs in addition to Michalerya and Sander have been notable not only for their success in this role at their center but also for their contribution to strengthening the role of the ILO across all ERCs. As was the case with Khalil Najafi for Deputy Directors and Janice Brickley for ADs, Carl Rust of the Georgia Tech Packaging Research Center helped to codify the role of the ILO and described it in a plenary presentation at the 2003 ERC Program Annual Meeting.[11] In 2012 Peter Seoane, the ILO at the North Carolina A&T ERC for Revolutionizing Metallic Biomaterials, on his own initiative conducted a cross-ERC survey of Industrial Advisory Board members and Center Directors and reported the results as a SWOT of industrial involvement in ERCs at the 2012 ERC Annual Meeting.[12] These and other exemplary ILOs are briefly profiled in Section 6-F.

8-A(e)    Education and Outreach Directors

From the beginning of the ERC Program, the goals of an ERC were described in terms of a “three-legged stool”: research, education, and technology transfer. Although the terms used have changed over the decades, the essence of that formulation remains accurate. Accordingly, those in an ERC responsible for its education programs were and are part of the leadership team.

At the very start of the ERC Program, education programs were sometimes managed in an ad hoc fashion within the center, by faculty members or even Administrative Directors with a particular interest in education. That approach soon proved unworkable, and by the early 1990s, nearly all ERCs had one or more staff members responsible for education; NSF made it mandatory in 1994. In the first two decades of the Program, that staff member was usually titled Education and Outreach Director—outreach covered programs involving other institutions as well as precollege schools. In some cases, there was an Education Director—a faculty member responsible for education programs and strategy—and an Education Coordinator responsible for carrying them out, an arrangement that usually worked quite well. Not until 2010 did ERCs begin to formally split the education and outreach functions and standardize the titles as University Education Program Director and Precollege Education Program Director.

During the Gen-2 period, beginning in 1994-95, achieving diversity in the ERC was most visibly a function of the education program staff. The first members of the ERC leadership team responsible explicitly for diversity (including among the faculty and staff) were Diversity Directors, who began appearing in some ERCs around 2007, as ERCs became responsible for developing and implementing diversity strategic plans, and quickly became nearly universal across ERCs.

As with ILOs and ADs, NSF provided professional support to education program leaders in the form of a Best Practices Manual chapter[13] and an Education Consultancy. Education supplements were also provided to ERCs, outside the core ERC funding, for programs such as Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REUs) and Research Experiences for Teachers (RETs).

Also, as in the case of ILOs and ADs, some education program leaders took on a leadership role beyond their home ERC. These exemplars are described in Chapter 7, Education and Outreach Programs, Section 7-E.

8-A(f)     Diversity of the Leadership Teams

An awareness of the importance of diversity in ERCs was present from the beginning of the Program. Even for the first class, in 1985, an expectation for diversity was stated in the cooperative agreement and monitored by NSF through reporting to the ERC data base. In 2004, an explicit ERC diversity policy[14]—fairly groundbreaking within NSF at that time—was instituted that required ERCs to:

The ERC for Revolutionizing Metallic Biomaterials (ERC-RMB) was formed at North Carolina A&T State (NC A&T) University in 2008—the first ERC toe be established at an Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) institution. Its Director, Prof. Jagannathan “Jag” Sankar, was interviewed for an article in the university’s quarterly magazine. Some excerpts from the article follow.*

…Of equal importance to the research that will be conducted under NC A&T’s new grant is the emphasis placed on education and creating a diverse, globally experienced and innovative engineering workforce.
NSF’s Preston underscores this aspect of the grant’s emphasis when she says, “This ERC’s education programs will significantly impact the diversity of the engineering workforce because of its location at NC A&T and its synergistic partnership with the new NC A&T department of bioengineering.”

To this end. Sankar recently returned from India, where he was finalizing arrangements for student-mentor summer programs at the Indian lnstitute of Technology in Madras, which is participating as NC A&T’s global cultural partner.

To Sankar, NC A&T’s student body is “the next generation workforce,” and as such he feels they must have firsthand knowledge of the world, how it looks, how it works and how industry operates within those global boundaries.

”I can teach students about research and engineering,” Sankar says, “but I cannot reach them about the world. They have to see that for themselves. I want them togo to Madras. to see the poor people so they will understand the effect of the work they will do—its importance to the child with a cleft palate or the young person who needs a stent.”

The objective is to make students think beyond their current situations—to make them think big, to make them dream. Those perspectives, according to Sankar, are the basis of leadership, because it is not until young people ask the question “Why?” that they can envision the possibility of answering “Why not?”

“To be a leader, you must have vision,” Sankar says. “You have to keep moving forward and you have to make others believe in that vision. Then they will share your passion.”

“Keep moving,” he says, smiling. “We have to keep walking forward, little by little. Always be one step better than yesterday.” _______________________________________
*Wall, David C. (2009). Evolution: Research moving forward. NC A&T State University, Fall 2009.
  • Operate with strategic plans that include goals, milestones, actions and impacts to increase diversity at all levels to exceed national engineering-wide averages for women and underrepresented racial and ethnic minorities
  • Form sustained partnerships with affiliated deans and department chairs to enable this enhancement
  • Develop core partner or outreach connections with predominantly female and underrepresented-minority institutions
  • Develop outreach connections with at least one LSAMP and one AGEP[15]
  • Operate diversity-oriented REUs and pre-college programs.[16]

In response to lawsuits against some universities around the country on the basis of quotas, the more explicit focus on numbers was soon toned down in favor of “quantification of impacts”; but the determination to achieve greater diversity continued. By 2008, two of the eight core features of an ERC dealt with the importance of establishing a culture of diversity and inclusivity in ERCs:

  • Capable leadership, cohesive and diverse interdisciplinary team, effective management
  • Multi-university configuration enabled by cross-institutional commitment to facilitate and foster the interdisciplinary culture and diversity of the ERC.[17]

Initially the primary focus was on improving student diversity, especially through outreach to female- and minority-serving institutions and student groups.[18] But fairly quickly, helped by research partnerships with other institutions, the emphasis expanded to include faculty and staff—the leadership team—of ERCs. The representation of women and minorities on ERC faculties consistently exceeded national averages.[19]

Initially, data regarding representation of women and minorities on ERC leadership teams as such was not collected; but with consistent pressure from NSF and consequent reporting on leadership team diversity, plus pressure from the host universities and within the ERCs themselves—and especially with the growing addition of Diversity Directors to the leadership teams—ERC leadership teams became quite inclusive. By the late 2000s, the “ERC Family” was a happily diverse one.[20]

8-B       ERC Leaders Who Achieved Higher-level Academic Administrative Positions

One of the most important “products” of an ERC is its people. Being a member of an ERC leadership team has proved to be excellent preparation for higher posts in academia. This section highlights some examples.

Lessons Learned on Engineering Leadership Skills
A major contribution of the ERCs is the development of leaders capable of directing a large program of cross-disciplinary research with long-term systems goals. Frequently, the directors and thrust leaders who successfully developed these skills subsequently went on to higher levels of leadership in academia and industry. ERCs with leadership teams which did not evidence such leadership skills often floundered.
–Randolph Hatch, Ph.D. (frequent ERC reviewer and entrepreneur)

Rafael Reif was a Deputy Director of the Center for Environmentally Benign Semiconductor Manufacturing (CEBSM), headquartered at the University of Arizona with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as a partner institution. He rose through the ranks at MIT as a department chair and Provost, before being elected President of MIT in 2012. See,_teaching,_and_administration

Rafael Reif

Gregory Fenves was a faculty member at the University of California at Berkeley, where he was a researcher in the Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research Center there. He became Dean of Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin in 2008 and was subsequently appointed as Executive Vice President and Provost before being named President in 2015. See

Gregory Fenves

David Pershing was briefly a faculty researcher at the University of Utah/Brigham Young University Advanced Combustion Engineering Research Center (ACERC), before being named Dean of Engineering at Utah. He later became Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs, and in 2012 was named president of the University of Utah, a position he held until 2018. See

David Pershing

Kristina Johnson was a faculty member, then a Thrust Leader, then Director of the Optoelectronic Computing Systems (OCS) ERC at the University of Colorado. She went on to become the Dean of Engineering at Duke University (1999-2007) and Provost at Johns Hopkins University (2007-2009), followed by a stint as Under Secretary of Energy in the Obama Administration, before becoming Chancellor of the State University of New York (SUNY) system in 2017. See

Kristina Johnson

Thomas Peterson was one of the original faculty members in the Center for Environmentally Beneficial Semiconductor Manufacturing at the University of Arizona and Chair of the Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering. He later served as Dean of Engineering at UA, then became Assistant Director for Engineering at NSF, where he served from 2009 through 2012. From 2012 to 2018 he was Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor at the University of California at Merced. See

Thomas Peterson

Gary May was a faculty member and Education Director of the Packaging Research Center, an ERC at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Later he served as Dean of Engineering at Georgia Tech from 2011 until June 2017, when he was named the Chancellor of the University of California at Davis. See

Gary May

Henry Yang, former Co-Director of the ERC for Intelligent Manufacturing Systems at Purdue University (one of the first six ERCs, in the Class of 1985) and later Purdue Dean of Engineering, is now Chancellor at the University of California at Santa Barbara. See

Henry Yang

Amr Elnashai was first Deputy Director and then Director of the Mid-America Earthquake (MAE) Center (2004-2009) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he was also head of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Director of the NSF Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulations (NEES) Laboratory there (2002-2009). In 2009 he was appointed Dean of Engineering at the Pennsylvania State University and in July 2017 became the Vice Chancellor/Vice President for Research and Technology Transfer at the University of Houston and the University of Houston System. He is a Fellow of the British Royal Academy of Engineering. See

Amr Elnashai

James Bean was the Associate Director for Education at the Reconfigurable Manufacturing Systems (RMS) ERC, based at the University of Michigan, and later Co-director of the Tauber Manufacturing Institute, Associate Dean for Graduate Education and International Programs in the College of Engineering, and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at UM. He was the Dean of the College of Business at the University of Oregon from 2004 to 2008 and Senior Vice President and Provost there from 2008 to 2013. Bean was named Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs at Northeastern University in 2015. See

James Bean

Stephen Director was a faculty member in Carnegie Mellon University’s Engineering Design Research Center (EDRC) before becoming a department chair and then Dean of Engineering there. Later he was Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs at Drexel University (2005–2008) and held the same positions at Northeastern University (2008–2015), where he currently is the Senior Advisor to the President of Northeastern. See

Stephen Director

Jack Hu was a Thrust Leader at the Reconfigurable Manufacturing Systems (RMS) ERC, based at the University of Michigan. In 2016 he was appointed the Vice President for Research at the U of M. See

Jack Hu

Erik Sander was the ILO at the University of Florida’s Particle ERC (PERC), and later became the founding Director of the University of Florida Engineering Innovation Institute and Director of Industry Programs for the university. See

Erik Sander

Marianne Hassan was the Administrative Director at the Duke University Emerging Cardiovascular Technologies ERC (Class of 1987). From 2011 to 2018 she was the Chief of Staff in the President’s Office at Khalifa University of Science, Technology, and Research in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Republic. In 2018 she became Chief of Staff to the Provost of the State University of New York system. See the linked file.

Marianne Hassan

Elizabeth Tranter was the Education and Outreach Director at the Center for Power Electronics Systems (CPES), based at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (VPI). In 2015, she was appointed Associate Vice President for Research Planning in the Office of the Vice President for Research at VPI. Currently in semi-retirement, she serves as Grants Administrator for a large coastal county in South Carolina. See

Elizabeth Tranter

Nancy Bulger was the Administrative Director of the Purdue University ERC for Intelligent Manufacturing Systems (Class of 1985) and its follow-on ERC for Collaborative Manufacturing (Class of 1994). Since 2003, she has been the Assistant Provost at Purdue and now is Executive Director of Research Programs in the Office of Research at UC Davis. See

Nancy Bulger

8-C       ERC Researchers Who Achieved National High-Level Recognition as Innovators

8-C(a)    MacArthur Fellows

MacArthur Foundation Fellowships, sometimes called “The Genius Award,” are among the most prestigious honors granted by a private group anywhere in the world. The Fellowship is a five-year $625,000, no-strings-attached award to extraordinarily talented and creative individuals as an investment in their potential. The Fellowship is granted “…to talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.”[21] Two ERC Center Directors and one ERC PhD graduate have won a MacArthur Fellowship.

i.                    Claire Gmachl (2005), Director of the Princeton University Mid-Infrared Technologies for Health and the Environment (MIRTHE) ERC—for creating state-of-the-art lasers for novel applications in environmental monitoring, clinical diagnoses, chemical process control, and homeland security.

ii.                  Linda Griffith (2006), Director of the MIT Biotechnology Process Engineering Center (BPEC)—for shaping the frontiers of tissue engineering and synthetic regenerative technologies by designing new methods for fabricating scaffolds on which cultured cells can adhere and grow.

iii.                Naomi Leonard (2004), Electrical Engineering PhD, 1994, University of Maryland Institute for Systems Research (ISR) /ERC Class of 1985—for building multiple, miniature, autonomous underwater vehicles that mimic the behavior of schooling fish.

8-C(b)    National Medal of Technology

The National Medal of Technology and Innovation is the nation’s highest honor for technological achievement, bestowed annually by the president of the U.S. on America’s leading innovators.[22] Erich Bloch, former Director of NSF who was instrumental in the establishment of the ERC Program, was one of the awardees in the first year of the award, in 1985, for his contributions to the development of the IBM 360 computer.

One of five awardees in 2010 was B. Jayant (“Jay”) Baliga, a faculty researcher at North Carolina State University’s FREEDM Systems ERC, for his invention of power semiconductor devices, especially the Insulated Gate Bipolar Transistor, that are used in a wide range of applications and fields.[23]

One of eight awardees in 2011 was Robert Langer, at MIT, a faculty member in the Biotechnology Process Engineering Center (BPEC), for his work in tissue engineering and discoveries leading to the development of controlled drug-release systems for the treatment of cancer and other diseases.[24]

One of eight awardees in 2013 was Mark Humayun, Director of the Biomimetic Microelectronic Systems (BMES) ERC at the University of Southern California, for his leadership in the development of bioelectronics in medicine, including the world’s first retinal prosthesis in clinical use.[25]

8-C(c)     National Academy of Engineering

Founded in 1964, the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) is a private, independent, nonprofit institution that provides engineering leadership in service to the nation. As a part of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, its main purpose is to bring the expertise and insights of eminent engineers to bear to provide independent advice to the federal government on matters involving engineering and technology. This is most often done through studies and reports of the National Research Council to various federal agencies.

Membership in the NAE is one of the most prestigious honors accorded to any engineer. Membership is accorded by peer nomination and voting by NAE members themselves. Of the more than 2,000 NAE members, dozens have been associated with one or more ERCs—too many to list here. The current membership is here. []

8-C(d)    National Academy of Inventors

The National Academy of Inventors is a member organization comprising U.S. and international universities, and governmental and non-profit research institutes, with over 4,000 individual inventor members and Fellows spanning more than 250 institutions worldwide. Members are required to have one or more patents issued by the US Patent and Trade Office. Past or present ERC participants who are NAI Fellows include:

  • B. Jayant (“Jay”) Baliga, a faculty researcher at North Carolina State University’s FREEDM Systems ERC[26]
  • John Baras, founding Director of the Systems Research Center (now Institute for Systems Research) at the University of Maryland
  • Barbara Boyan, a former faculty member in the Georgia Tech/Emory University Center for the Engineering of Living Tissues (GTEC) and currently Dean of Engineering at Virginia Commonwealth University
  • Anne Camper, faculty member at the Montana State University Center for Biofilm Engineering
  • Stephen Director, former faculty member at the Engineering Design Research Center, at Carnegie Mellon University
  • Mark Humayun, Director of the Biomimetic Microelectronic Systems (BMES) ERC at the University of Southern California
  • Kristina Johnson, former Director of the Optoelectronic Computing Systems ERC at the University of Colorado[27]
  • Jay Keasling, former Director of the Synthetic Biology ERC (Synberc), at the University of California at Berkeley
  • Robert Langer, a faculty member in the Biotechnology Process Engineering Center (BPEC), at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology[28]
  • Fred Lee, Founding Director of the Center for Power Electronic Systems, at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
  • Brij Moudgil, Director of the Particle Engineering Research Center, at the University of Florida
  • Max Nikias, Founding Director of the Integrated Media Systems Center, at the University of Southern California
  • Nasser Peyghambarian, Director of the Center for Integrated Access Networks, at the University of Arizona
  • Bala Subramaniam, Director of the Center for Environmentally Beneficial Catalysis at the University of Kansas
  • Russell Taylor, Director of the Center for Integrated Surgical Systems and Technologies, at Johns Hopkins University
  • Alan Willner (University of California), Research Thrust Leader, Center for Integrated Access Networks at the University of Arizona

8-D       ERC Leaders Who Attained Success in Industry

It was not uncommon for ERC Directors to have come from industry. What was less common was for ERC Directors to start companies or enter industry as top management after their center’s graduation from the ERC Program. Some examples follow.

Wade Thomas “Tom” Cathey was the first Director of the Optoelectronic Computing Systems ERC at the University of Colorado. In 1997 he started CDM Optics in Boulder with two partners from the OCS. CDM developed Wavefront Coding technology, a cutting-edge depth of field imaging system. The company was acquired by OmniVision in 2005. In 2015, Cathey, who had 23 patents, and a colleague started Ubifocal to explore the use of extended depth-of-field optics for correcting presbyopia.

Tom Cathey

Kristina Johnson was a faculty member, thrust leader, and then Director of the Optoelectronic Computing Systems ERC at the University of Colorado from 1985 through 1999. During and after that time Dr. Johnson founded several spinoff companies, including Colorlink, which was eventually sold to RealD and provided the technology underlying modern 3D movies such as Avatar. More recently, she became involved in clean-energy hydropower generation as founder and CEO of two companies, Enduring Hydro and Cube Hydro Partners.

Kristina Johnson

Buddy Ratner was the Director of UWEB, the University of Washington Engineered Biomaterials ERC, from its inception through graduation and beyond. He has started a number of biomedical companies, including Healionics, Inc., founded in 2005 along with other UWEB faculty. The company’s products are based on a biomedical breakthrough in research by Ratner and Dr. Andrew Marshall—i.e., discovering the precise pore size and geometry that allows biomaterial to promote the acceptance of biomedical devices within the body. In addition to Healionics, Ratner has played a founding role in starting Calcionics, Inson Medical Systems, Ratner Biomedical Inc., and Beat Biotherapeutics.

Buddy Ratner

Mark Kryder was the Director of the Data Storage Systems Center at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) from its inception in 1990 through 1998. He was instrumental in the formation in 1991 of the National Storage Industry Consortium (NSIC), a collective known today as the Information Storage Industry Consortium (INSIC), the research consortium for the worldwide information storage industry.  Technically, he is best known for the development of Perpendicular Magnetic Recording, which enabled a dramatic increase in the storage capacity of computer-readable media. From 1998 through 2007, Kryder was Seagate Corp.’s Senior Vice President of Research and Chief Technology Officer. Today he is Professor Emeritus at CMU.

Mark Kryder

Olaf von Ramm was the Director of the Emerging Cardiovascular Technologies ERC at Duke University. In 1990, two ERC faculty, including von Ramm, formed startup 3-D Ultrasound, Inc. (later renamed Volumetrics Medical Imaging) to build and sell then-revolutionary real-time 3D ultrasound equipment. Volumetrics’ machine used parallel processing of ultrasound signals to obtain multiple images simultaneously, allowing doctors to view an organ from four or more perspectives at once. Eventually Royal Philips Electronics (based in the Netherlands) pursued a purchase of the company but backed out. In 2004 Philips settled a breach-of-contract claim by Volumetrics out of court for EUR $145 million (USD $185M). 

Olaf von Ramm

8-E       ERC Participants Who Achieved Prominent Positions in Government

Kelvin Droegemeir, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) beginning in 2018 and currently serving (appointed March 31, 2020) as the Acting Director of NSF, was a co-founder and Deputy Director of the ERC for Collaborative Adaptive Sensing of the Atmosphere (CASA), headquartered at UMass-Amherst. Prior to assuming the OSTP post he was Vice President for Research and Regents’ Professor of Meteorology at the University of Oklahoma. From 2004 to 2018 he was a member of the National Science Board and from 2012 to 2016 was its Vice-Chair. (See

Kelvin Droegemeir

Kristina Johnson is currently Chancellor of the State University of New York. In 2009, she was appointed by President Obama as the Under Secretary of Energy at the US Department of Energy with the unanimous consent of the US Senate. There, she was responsible for unifying and managing a $10.5 billion Energy and Environment portfolio, including an additional $37 billion from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). (See

Kristina Johnson

Pramod Khargonesar is currently the Vice Chancellor for Research and Distinguished Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the University of California, Irvine. From 1997 to 2001 he was a Thrust Leader (Controls) in the Reconfigurable Manufacturing Systems (RMS) ERC at the University of Michigan. From 2012 to 2013 he was Deputy Director for Technology at the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy; and from 2013 to 2016 he served as Assistant Director for Engineering at the National Science Foundation. (See

Pramod Khargonesar

James Kurose is currently (July 2018) the Assistant Director for Computer and Information Systems Engineering (CISE) at the National Science Foundation. Kurose is Distinguished Professor at UMass-Amherst’s School of Computer Science, a position he has held since 2004. He was Co-PI of the ERC for Collaborative Adaptive Sensing of the Atmosphere (CASA), at UMass-Amherst. See

James Kurose

Dawn Tilbury is currently (2018) the Assistant Director for Engineering at the National Science Foundation. She is a Professor of Mechanical Engineering Department at the University of Michigan, where, as an Assistant Professor in 1996, she began working on manufacturing control problems when the Engineering Research Center for Reconfigurable Manufacturing Systems (ERC/RMS) was first established. From 2002 to 2011 she was a Thrust Leader (Controls) in the RMS ERC. (see

Dawn Tilbury

[1] NSF (1996). ERC Best Practices Manual, Ch.2: Center Leadership and Strategic Direction (rev. 2014).

[2] Costerton, William (1996). In ERC Best Practices Manual, Ch.2: Center Leadership and Strategic Direction, (1996 edition) Attachment 2-1: Profile of an “Ideal” ERC Director.

[3] Ibid.

[4] For an interesting talk on one Center Director’s progress from young person to ERC Center Director and beyond, including leadership challenges and lessons learned, see Ken Wise’ talk at a University of Michigan commemorative meeting.

[5] Najafi, Khalil (2003). Center Leadership: The Deputy Director. Presentation at the 2003 ERC Program Annual Meeting.

[6] NSF (2006). ERC Best Practices Manual, Ch.9: Multi-University Centers, section 9.1.

[7] NSF (1996). ERC Best Practices Manual, Ch.6: Administrative Management (rev. 2014).

[8] Brickley, Janice (2011). “Part IV: AD Perspective.” In 2011 Annual Meeting AD Training.

[9] NSF (1996). ERC Best Practices Manual, Ch.3: Research Management, section 3.1.3 (rev. 2011).

[10] NSF (1996). ERC Best Practices Manual, Ch.5: Industrial Collaboration and Innovation (rev. 2012).

[11] Rust. Carl A (2003). “Role of the Industrial Liaison Officer.” Presentation to the 2003 ERC Annual Meeting.

[12] Seoane, Peter (2012). IAB Involvement in ERCs: Assessing and Strengthening the Role. Presented at the 2012 ERC Program Annual Meeting, Bethesda, Maryland.

[13] NSF (1996). ERC Best Practices Manual, Ch.4: “Education Programs” (rev. 2013).

[14] NSF (2004). “Diversity Policy in ERC/EERC Cooperative Agreement–February 9, 2004.” Internal NSF document.

[15] LSAMP=Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation; AGEP=Alliances for Graduate Education and the Professoriate.

[16] Preston, Lynn (2008). ERCs and Diversity. Presentation given at the 2008 ERC Program Annual Meeting, slide 6.

[17] Ibid., slide 3. 

[18] NSF (2012). “Current ERCs Core and Outreach Partner, Feb 2012.” Internal NSF document

[19] Preston (2008), op. cit.., slides 11-13.

[20] See, for example: NSF (2009). “Engineering Research Centers: 2009 Annual Meeting Attendees” (commonly known as “the Photo Book”).

[21] See

[22] See lists of all awardees at

[23] See

[24] See

[25] See

[26] Also a 2016 inductee into the Inventors Hall of Fame

[27] Also a 2015 inductee into the Inventors Hall of Fame

[28] Also a 2006 inductee into the Inventors Hall of Fame