The University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s next vice chancellor for research and economic development has years of experience building regional and national research partnerships from the ground up.
Chancellor Ronnie Green and Executive Vice Chancellor Donde Plowman announced April 3 that Robert “Bob” Wilhelm has been selected as Nebraska’s top research leader. Wilhelm, presently the vice chancellor for research and economic development at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, will begin work at Nebraska on May 15. The appointment is pending University of Nebraska Board of Regents approval.
“Our momentum continues to build as one of America’s fastest-growing research universities,” Green said. “Last year we checked in at just under $300 million in collective research expenditures — roughly double the level compared to 10 years ago. Bob Wilhelm’s expertise in multi-disciplinary collaboration and public-private partnerships fits perfectly with our priorities here at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.”
Wilhelm, a professor of mechanical engineering and engineering science, has been vice chancellor at UNC Charlotte since 2011. He has held executive roles at that institution since 2005 and has been a member of its faculty since 1993.
“Bob is a driven and energetic leader with a vision and record of success for achieving ambitious goals. He’s a great choice for this important position and at this time of the university,” Plowman said. “Bob will make an immediate impact.”
Wilhelm said he is pleased and gratified to join the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
“I’m impressed by the way the University of Nebraska is connected with the state’s economy and the state’s progress,” he said. “I look forward to the opportunity to work with the talented faculty and students at this wide-ranging and accomplished university.”
The vice chancellor’s role is to provide intellectual, strategic and visionary leadership as the institution’s chief research and economic development officer. Responsibilities include collaboratively establishing programs and research directions; fostering partnerships to advance research, economic development and the university’s national standing; strengthening national and international relationships; and articulating the overall vision for partnership-based research and economic development.
An award-winning researcher, Wilhelm specializes in precision engineering. He received a National Science Foundation Young Investigator Award in 1994 and was named a fellow of the International Academy for Production Engineering in 2013. He was awarded more than $6 million in peer-reviewed competitive research funding between 1993 and 2009, working with companies like Caterpillar and DaimlerChrysler on virtual manufacturing and software frameworks for integrated measurement processes.
Before becoming UNC Charlotte’s chief research officer, Wilhelm served as associate provost for strategic research partnerships and as executive director of the Charlotte Research Institute, a facility similar to the Nebraska Innovation Campus that provides space to corporate partners to work with faculty and students on campus.
He also assisted with the founding of six National Science Foundation industry-university cooperative research centers and the development of focus areas for large-scale research and academic programs in data science-business analytics, energy, advanced manufacturing, biomedical research and bioinformatics.
Wilhelm brings robust economic development experience into his new role.
“I’ve had success with startup companies and well-established companies, helping them to be better connected with the economic growth, research and educational activities at the university,” he said. “I’ve spent 10 years working with economic development agencies at the city, regional, state and national level. I feel very comfortable working from that experience to develop strong working relationships with economic development leadership across Nebraska as well as the Lincoln and Omaha areas.”
Wilhelm has emphasized research that directly impacts social, cultural and economic communities and has led initiatives to support social science, digital humanities and the broader research culture.
His wife, Lynda Wilhelm, a senior banking executive and community leader, will accompany Wilhelm to Lincoln. The couple have worked side by side to develop relationships within the university and throughout the community.
Wilhelm earned a bachelor’s degree from Wichita State University. He holds a Master of Science from Purdue University and a doctorate from the University of Illinois.
Along with serving as Nebraska’s vice chancellor for research and economic development, Wilhelm will be named a Kate Foster Professor. The endowed professorship was established in the 1970s through a gift by Foster’s estate. Foster graduated from the University of Nebraska, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1906 and a Master of Arts in 1909.