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New roles for UDRI leaders

Sukh Sidhu, Taylor Renner, David Ashley

New acting VP for academic research

The upcoming retirement of Dr. John Leland, the University’s vice president for research, along with the significant growth and unique needs of the University of Dayton Research Institute, has created an opportunity for a modified administrative structure that can better support both UDRI and academic researchers in the schools and college. These changes should further enhance UD’s reputation of being a premier Catholic, Marianist research university by providing focused leadership for UDRI and valuable transitional leadership in support of academic researchers. (Read more about Leland's retirement.)

First, the University owes a debt of deep gratitude to John Leland for his outstanding work at UDRI over the past 22 years. During Leland’s 8-year tenure as vice president, UDRI sponsored research increased every year since 2015, from about $90 million to more than $220 million, with an accompanying increase in both impact and regional economic development. On the academic side, he was able to foster collaborations between the School of Engineering and UDRI, leading to the creation of three endowed chair positions. Leland also was instrumental in securing the investment that led to the GE Aviation EPISCenter being established on the UD campus, and his leadership helped to cement UD as a highly regarded research university that has fueled technology development in Ohio.

Beyond being impressive, the growth of UDRI has sparked the need for organizational changes designed to enhance UDRI’s mission and also better support faculty research. 

“UDRI is now such a large part of the University and its research so critical, that it makes sense with John’s retirement to restructure in a way that will further support UDRI, address the different needs of academic researchers, and enable even greater partnerships,” President Eric F. Spina said, “John has done a great job of identifying and preparing senior leaders within UDRI who are well-positioned to move into executive leadership roles and steer the institute toward continued success.”

Dr. Sukh Sidhu will become vice president for UDRI, handling internal and external operations, including leading more than 800 full-time employees. Sidhu started at UDRI as a postdoc and worked his way up the ranks as a successful researcher and an innovative administrator. He possesses strong technical capabilities and understands the complexity and demands of the business, while balancing that with his ability to inspire and motivate UDRI staff and connect with and deliver for key customers. 

“I am honored and humbled to be able to lead a great team at UDRI. With nearly seven decades of history of innovation and high-level performance, we take pride in serving clients that range from the U.S. Air Force and sister services to industrial power-houses like GE, Boeing and leading defense contractors to small businesses and startups,” Sidhu said. “Over the last five years, UDRI has doubled its revenue, and our programs have grown in complexity and size, now ranging from a few thousand to hundreds of millions of dollars. We have acquired new capabilities and expanded into new areas of R&D and geographical locations. These are exciting times. I am confident that UDRI is well positioned for success in the coming years.”

Sidhu will report to incoming provost Dr. Darlene Weaver, who has been consulted with and fully supports these changes and appointments. He will become a member of the University Cabinet and President’s Council.

Taylor Renner, currently the UDRI director of business operations, will become associate vice president for UDRI and report to Sidhu. Renner brings great depth of business knowledge, process and organization of complex systems to her work. She has helped position the institute at the highest level in supporting UDRI’s clients and executing contracts. 

“I am excited and honored to lead UDRI as the associate vice president,” Renner said. “I look forward to continuing to collaborate with our talented team and partners to deliver innovative solutions to our government, industry and nonprofit customers.”   

Renner will also become a member of the President’s Council.

While vice president Sidhu and associate vice president Renner will focus their considerable talents on supporting UDRI, its staff, and its customers, the University is creating the new position of acting vice president for academic research to ensure that, during this transitional period for University of Dayton research, the often different needs of faculty researchers in the schools and college are understood and addressed. 

“UD has positioned itself among the top Catholic research universities in the country in both scope and impact of research,” Provost Paul Benson said. “Our research spans the spectrum of heavily applied technological innovation in UDRI to the more fundamental research and scholarship led by faculty in the academic units. We believe this new structure will expand opportunities for valuable, high-impact scholarship that serves the common good.”

Dr. David Ashley will serve as the acting vice president for academic research, also reporting to incoming provost Weaver and providing attention to and advocacy for faculty from all disciplines. Ashley’s years of higher education leadership experience – as dean of engineering at Ohio State, founding provost and executive vice chancellor at University of California at Merced, and president at University of Nevada, Las Vegas – will be key in his efforts to use this transitional role to define processes, practices, and approaches that will best serve academic research at UD. Ashley has served at UD since 2018 as director of industry relations in the School of Engineering.

“I look forward to supporting and enhancing academic research at UD which in turn will help to advance student learning and the University’s academic excellence,” Ashley said. “This new administrative structure will allow us to better support our faculty and students throughout the university as they pursue their scholarship and research experiences. Our two new VP positions will closely collaborate to ensure strong connectivity between UDRI staff and academic researchers benefitting the University overall.” 

Sidhu added, “I look forward to working closely with David to ensure both UDRI staff and our academic researchers are well supported, work together where it can benefit students and sponsors, and advance the University’s overall excellence.”  

Sidhu, Renner and Ashley will assume their new roles on July 1.

May 16, 2023


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