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Leland to retire as VP for Research

Dr. John Leland

University well positioned for continued research growth and impact

When Dr. John Leland retires as vice president for research at the University of Dayton June 30, he will leave a legacy of strong research growth and a research institute well poised for continued success. 

During his tenure as director of the University of Dayton Research Institute and then as vice president for research, sponsored research revenue grew more than 200%, from $70.2 million in fiscal year 2005 to more than $220 million in fiscal year 2022; UD rose to first place in the nation for materials research — a ranking it has held for five years; and research activities at UDRI not only expanded out of Kettering Laboratories on the main University campus, they now fill the bulk of available lab and office space in Daniel J. Curran Place, home of the former NCR world headquarters campus in Dayton. 

In support of government-funded programs, the Research Institute also performs research in Warner Robins and Eglin Air Force bases, as well as in additional locations in the Dayton region, Florida, Georgia and Oklahoma.

“The sheer growth of UDRI in terms of research sponsorship and capabilities, along with a steady rise in several prominent National Science Foundation research rankings, speaks volumes about John’s hard work, vision and ability to build and maintain strong and vital relationships with our government, industry and community partners and sponsors,” said University President Eric F. Spina. “His leadership has led to both extraordinary growth and very significant impact for UDRI and its important customers. While John will be missed as a leader and as a person, his legacy is secure as a historic builder for UDRI.”

Leland joined UDRI in 2000 as Director of Technology Partnerships, after a 16-year career leading a research team in power and thermal management at the Air Force Research Laboratory and a yearlong congressional science fellowship in Washington, D.C. Although his interest, education and background were in mechanical engineering, John’s strengths in forward thinking and guiding people to their best outcomes ultimately brought him from the lab to leadership. He was promoted to division head of materials engineering in 2003, to associate director for research operations in 2004, and to director of UDRI in 2005. 

With a strong record of research growth under his direction at UDRI, Leland was promoted in 2013 to associate vice president for research at UD, simultaneously serving as executive director of the Research Institute, and in 2015 to vice president for research, where he also supported the elevation of academic research and served on the University’s Cabinet. 

“In his role as vice president, John worked hard to foster opportunities for increased collaboration among faculty researchers across academic units, as well as between faculty and research staff at UDRI,” said Dr. Paul Benson, University provost. “This increase in collaboration further enhanced the quality and impact of research at UD and allowed us to compete for a wider range of funding.”

Leland also worked to create an environment ripe for entrepreneurship in research on campus, including providing strong support for the development and launch of Propel Dayton, a program that provides a variety of resources to support faculty and staff interested in commercializing technologies developed at UD.

Leland’s efforts in support of research advancement were not limited to UD, said Dr. Sukh Sidhu, who has served as executive director of UDRI since 2021. “John also understood the importance of strong technology-based economic development in the communities that surround and serve the University. He regularly worked with local, state and federal government and economic development organizations to support technology-based economic development initiatives in the region,” Sidhu said.

 Leland played a key role in bringing GE Aviation’s Electrical Power Integrated Systems research and development center (EPISCenter) to Dayton and helped drive the effort to establish the region’s Ohio Aerospace Hub.

One of Leland’s proudest accomplishments was successfully convincing state of Ohio officials to allow UD to compete for Third Frontier Project funding, resulting in more than $50 million in awards to the University. “Third Frontier funding was originally going to be open to only Ohio’s public universities and Case Western Reserve, and I fought for our right to participate. The funding we won as a result allowed us to launch what is now a thriving program in sensors research within the School of Engineering and UDRI, create three endowed chairs within the SOE, and build a state-of-the-art Nanoscale Engineering, Science and Technology Center and electronics processing lab,” Leland said, adding, “We’re now viewed by the state as one of its leading research universities.”

Leland took his passion for technology advancement back to D.C. as well, regularly developing and presenting testimony to House and Senate congressional committees in advocacy of science and engineering education and research funding.

“John has been an outstanding strategic leader and collaborator, with a strong commitment to advancing research and technology development not only at the University, but in support of our community, state and nation,” Benson said. 

Leland said he’s looking forward to spending more time with his family, catching up with friends and traveling; he also intends to remain active professionally. But stepping away won’t be easy, he said. “I’m going to miss the people here; they have always been the most important part of our organization. We’ve developed outstanding business teams, and our researchers are among the most talented in the country. They’ve always set high expectations for me, and I’ve tried to rise to them, allowing me to grow personally and professionally along the way. I look forward to hearing about the next great research innovations that are sure to come from UD. 

Beginning July 1, Dr. Sukh Sidhu will step into the new, focused role of vice president for the University of Dayton Research Institute, reporting directly to incoming provost Dr. Darlene Weaver, serving on the University Cabinet, and overseeing research operations at the Research Institute. Taylor Renner, director of business operations at UDRI, will be promoted to associate vice president for UDRI, continuing to lead research business operations and also serve on the President’s Council.  In addition, Dr. David Ashley will be appointed interim vice president over academic research.

“I will be able to retire with peace of mind knowing that UDRI is in very capable hands,” Leland said. “I have the utmost confidence in Sukh and Taylor and know they will continue to ensure UDRI’s excellence, impact and success for its employees and for the University as a whole.  Likewise, David’s rich background in academic research will serve our faculty researchers well.”

May 16, 2023


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