UNC Charlotte recently named Robert Wilhelm the vice chancellor of research and economic development on campus.

Wilhelm will be replacing Stephen Moshier, who served as vice chancellor of research and federal relations and is retiring at the end of the year. Wilhelm was appointed to the new position in August and he began work on Aug. 15, 2011, but approvals from the Board of Governors were not passed until mid-October.

Wilhelm has been a mechanical engineering and engineering science professor at UNC Charlotte for many years as well as holding other prestigious positions. In 2005, he became the executive director of the Charlotte Research Institute (CRI). He has also held the title of associate provost for strategic-research partnerships since 2009.

After working closely with Moshier for many years, Wilhelm’s job now is to continue to advance the quality, diversity and growth of research on campus, he said. “We need to do that in a way that continues to support both the academic activities on campus but also our collaborators both within the media community and around the country, around the world even.”

“One of my interests in beginning this job is to focus on translating research results into applications, whether they are in the economic community or political community.”

There are many teams with different goals within the research community of this campus, from teams that write new proposals for research projects to teams that manage the different financial regulations that must be adhered to in terms of funding for projects.

“With me taking on this position, I will integrate the work of the CRI into all of this work that is happening already, so we will continue to promote growth, focus on the areas of this university that have key strengths and make the campus accessible to those business and institutional partners in the region, around the country and around the world,” said Wilhelm.

One of Wilhelm’s visions of that accessibility came in the form of the PORTAL building, a $26 million building that he conceived and will be constructed on the Charlotte Research Institute Campus on the southwest corner of N. Tryon St. and Institute Circle. The name stands for Partnership, Outreach and Research for Accelerated Learning.

According to Wilhelm, the university has a large menu of offerings that stem from its research facilities. “We have a number of different efforts within the university and CRI to connect with partners in different ways. In some cases it would have to do with students working on projects with companies as part of their coursework, faculty members serving as expert consultants to help with challenges that institutions face or joint research projects with companies in the area.”

Wilhelm’s idea was to make a place for all of these projects to integrate. “The PORTAL building gives us a chance to bring that activity together in a gathering place to make it very visible both in terms of the faculty and students who are working with our collaborators but also to make it visible to those collaborators in the region,” he said.

“This university has always had a strong commitment to partnership in the regional community and it really goes back to the earliest days of the university. What we’ve heard from the business and economic communities around Charlotte is that they would like the university to continue to grow and connect with the businesses and institutions in the region to make a difference in terms of economic growth.”

The PORTAL building is one more step towards that goal, he said. “In the end this will all positively impact the learning opportunities for students in a big way…and that is really the long term plan for this building.”

Beyond all the businesses and institutions Wilhelm collaborates with, the former professor still values his relationships with students very highly.  In the summer of 2011, he spent a month hiking through Alaska with the Levine Scholars class of 2015. “It went great,” Wilhelm said of the trip. “The students all learned quite a lot. It was an interesting time for me. It was nice to be out in the big country like that for a long period of time and to spend concentrated time with students.”

This passion connects to Wilhelm’s first order of business while becoming accommodated to his named position. “The first thing that I am working on doing is listening and learning about the expertise that exists within the research and economic development organization. I also need to be aware of the concerns and interests of all of the faculty and students that I serve. That’s been a big part of my effort as I’ve begun this job.”

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