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Smith brings experience, perspective to research vice provost position

When people talk about Robert V. Smith, the University's new vice provost for research and graduate education and dean of the graduate school, one word keeps coming up: "experience."

Smith, who comes to the UConn from Washington State University in Pullman, Wash., has an impressive resume that includes nearly 30 years as a faculty member at the University of Iowa, the University of Texas at Austin, and WSU. He also has a distinguished research background in medicinal chemistry and more than 23 years of administrative experience, most recently in a position that is nearly identical to the one he will be assuming here.

"In many ways, Bob defined the positions of vice provost for research and dean of our graduate school here at Washington State University," says Geoffrey Gamble, WSU's vice provost for academic affairs. He adds that when Smith assumed those positions in 1986, WSU was a Research II institution.

"Bob stepped into the position and really provided the kind of leadership we were looking for," Gamble says. "We saw larger and larger grant funding totals each year, and we were able to improve and expand existing programs and initiate the kinds of new efforts we wanted to pursue."

Smith also created WSU's office for grant and research development, where staff have created a database of existing grants and try to identify areas where more funding may be available.

Along with helping WSU make the transition to a Research I institution, Smith served as a key member of WSU's federal relations team, which led the university to secure the $10 million Shock Dynamics Center, a U.S. Department of Energy-funded research center. He also worked with the provost and others to help attract a $1.5 billion investment into southwest Washington by the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company. The industrial-university partnership that is part of this agreement is expected to result in the creation of a semiconductor research center at WSU's Vancouver campus.

It is no wonder that UConn's search committee was impressed by Smith.

"He made a very strong impression on everyone he met here, from the professional schools to the humanities," says Anthony DiBenedetto, professor of chemical engineering and chair of the search committee.

Committee members say Smith is eager to deal with the challenges that UConn is facing.

"One of the main issues we are concerned with is the rankings of the University by the NSF and other organizations," says Ross MacKinnon, dean of the college of liberal arts and sciences. "Bob sees himself as an agent of change and a collaborator who will work with the deans on the academic quality of the institution. He also has a sensitivity to the needs of the humanities in research. He didn't just focus on science and technology."

Another committee member, Anne Hiskes, associate professor of philosophy, saw in Smith a sense of perspective. "He is a person who thinks beyond cost-effectiveness in research," she says. "He also looks at the human side of research and considers the people involved and what is important to them."

Mark Emmert, chancellor and provost for university affairs, echoes the committee's praises.

"Bob understands the critical role that research and graduate education will play in the University's future," says Emmert. "He further understands that this role can be strengthened by outreach efforts such as increasing public awareness regarding the importance of research, scholarship, and post-baccalaureate education."

Smith says he will discuss his vision for research at UConn after talking with University faculty and research staff, but he did have some general comments to about his overall philosophy.

"Research and scholarly development begin with talented faculty and staff," he said. "These players should operate in an environment where individual and group research efforts are encouraged and extraordinary efforts rewarded. Additionally, researchers need infrastructure and supportive units ... to succeed in securing and implementing extramurally-funded research."

Smith holds a bachelor of science degree from St. John's University and master's and Ph.D. degrees in pharmaceutical chemistry from the University of Michigan. In 1968, he joined the faculty at the University of Iowa's division of medicinal chemistry. He left Iowa in 1974 for the University of Texas at Austin where the positions he held included director of the Drug Dynamics Institute and the James E. Bauerle Professor of Drug Dynamics.

He joined WSU in 1985 as dean of the college of pharmacy and became vice provost for research and dean of the graduate school there the next year. He was also a tenured professor of pharmaceutical chemistry.

Smith's appointment at the University is effective August 31. Pending approval, he will also become a tenured faculty member in the school of pharmacy.

David Pesci