CORVALLIS, Ore. – A leading federal science director and accomplished oceanographer, who has overseen research efforts at two major federal agencies, is the new vice president for research at Oregon State University, OSU officials announced this morning.
Richard W. (Rick) Spinrad, assistant administrator for research for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, will leave his Washington, D.C., post and return to Corvallis, where he received his master’s degree (1978) and doctorate (1982) in oceanography. He will begin his new duties at OSU on July 1.
In addition to his NOAA stint, Spinrad has served as a research director with the U.S. Navy, taught oceanography at two universities, directed a major national non-profit organization, presided over a private company and worked as a research scientist.
“Rick Spinrad has extensive experience in assessing and funding exceptional research proposals and should be an invaluable resource for faculty at Oregon State who are seeking federal funding,” said OSU President Ed Ray. “In addition to his work with the government, he has experience in academia and the private sector, which will help increase our portfolio of university-industry research.”
As NOAA’s assistant administrator for research, Spinrad has directed the agency’s programs in oceanography, atmospheric science and climate since 2005. He directly supervises several of NOAA’s high-profile research efforts, including ocean exploration, the National Sea Grant College Program and the Climate Program Office, as well as seven NOAA laboratories around the United States.
Among his accomplishments, Spinrad led the development of the nation’s first set of ocean research priorities and oversaw the revamping of NOAA’s research enterprise.
He also spent two years as NOAA’s assistant administrator for Oceanic Services and Coastal Zone Management, directing the agency’s navigation services, including the National Geodetic Survey, the National Marine Sanctuaries Program and the Office of Coastal Resource Management. As part of his duties, he represented U.S. interests in the establishment of a global tsunami warning system.
Spinrad’s background in ocean and climate science dovetails with OSU’s growing strengths and visibility in the marine sciences and plans to significantly expand its overall research program over the coming 10-15 years.
“I am delighted and honored to join the leadership at Oregon State University and help strengthen an already pre-eminent research portfolio,” Spinrad said. “It’s a special treat for me to come back to OSU, where my own research career began 35 years ago.”
After earning his Ph.D. in oceanography from Oregon State, Spinrad joined the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in Maine as a research scientist. He returned to Corvallis three years later as president of Sea Tech Inc., a firm that developed oceanographic instrumentation.
In 1987, he joined the Office of Naval Research and during the next seven years, managed or directed ONR programs in underwater optics, ocean atmosphere, and space modeling and prediction. He was named executive director of the Consortium for Oceanographic Research and Education (CORE) in 1994 and served the non-profit organization for five years.
During the 1990s, he also served as an adjunct faculty member at both George Mason University and the U.S. Naval Academy, lecturing in oceanography and supervising student research projects.
Spinrad returned to the U.S. Navy in 1999 as technical director to the Oceanographer of the Navy, serving as the senior civilian adviser. For his work in advancing the Navy’s research and programming activities, he was given the first of his two Presidential Rank Awards, one from President George W. Bush and the second, last year, from President Barack Obama.
Mark Abbott, dean of OSU’s College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences and a long-time colleague of Spinrad, said the university’s incoming vice-president has “extraordinary depth and breadth in understanding the federal research system across the entire suite of agencies.”
“It would be hard to find someone anywhere in the country with a better understanding of the relationship between the research enterprises of universities and the federal government,” Abbott said. “He also sees how the landscape is evolving – through climate change, a need for more interdisciplinary research, and the importance of partnerships with private industry, as well as across university boundaries.
“He knows OSU well and he knows the federal system,” Abbott added. “It’s a great match.”
As vice president, Spinrad will take over an OSU research enterprise that brought in a record $252 million in overall funding during 2008-09, a $21 million increase over the previous year. In fact, OSU’s annual research portfolio, the strong majority of which is supported by federal agencies, has grown by about $100 million since 2003 and represents an important part of the university’s overall budget. OSU has by far the largest research program within the Oregon University System.
Research is conducted in each of OSU’s colleges as well as through more than 20 special programs, institutes and centers. These include high-profile entities such as the Linus Pauling Institute, the Hatfield Marine Science Center, the Institute for Natural Resources, the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute, the Radiation Center, the Marine Mammal Institute, the Seafood Laboratory, and the new Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center. OSU also operates a system of Agricultural Experiment Station branches around the state.
The university has nationally ranked programs in agriculture, forestry, conservation biology, fisheries and wildlife, and public health, as well as marine sciences. OSU also has several unique facilities, including its own research forest, an ocean-going research ship and several smaller vessels, and the nation’s largest tsunami wave basin.
Spinrad, who once served as a canoe trip guide in northern Canada, is an outdoor enthusiast, who also enjoys music, woodworking and collecting mechanical music machines. He will succeed as vice president John Cassady, who retires at the end of January. Rich Holdren will serve as interim vice president until July 1.