Penn State names Georgia Tech’s Lora Weiss senior vice president for research

Lora G. Weiss, interim senior vice president of the Georgia Institute of Technology and interim director of the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI), has been named senior vice president for research at Penn State, beginning Sept. 16. Weiss also serves as a Regents’ Researcher for the University System of Georgia.

Weiss, an accomplished scientist and educator with more than 30 years of experience in higher education, was selected following a national search led by a 16-member committee comprised of Penn State leaders, faculty and staff. She will succeed Neil Sharkey, vice president for research, who retired after a 22-year career at Penn State.

Lora Weiss is an accomplished scientist and educator who has focused her research on advancing the capabilities of unmanned air, ground, sea surface and undersea systems.

IMAGE: Courtesy of Lora Weiss

With a background in the design, development and implementation of robotics and unmanned systems, autonomous control systems, and digital and acoustic signal processing technologies, Weiss has centered her research on advancing the capabilities of unmanned air, ground, sea surface and undersea systems. Along with a range of leadership experience in academia, she has overseen a variety of research investigations, advised government officials and committees on national security challenges, and has served as a thought leader in national and global conversations regarding science, technology and engineering.

Weiss’ appointment also marks her return to Penn State, where she earned her doctorate in acoustics in 1993 and worked for more than 16 years, including as an associate professor of acoustics in the College of Engineering and at the Applied Research Laboratory (ARL).

“I am so pleased to welcome Lora Weiss back to Penn State. She’s an innovative leader with extensive experience in higher education and research administration that will help the University stay at the forefront of scientific exploration,” said Penn State President Eric Barron. “We are immensely grateful for Neil Sharkey’s leadership, and under Lora’s guidance I am confident the University will continue to foster student and faculty achievement in critical research areas and serve society by addressing the most pressing issues impacting the Commonwealth, nation and world.”

As a member of the President’s Council, Weiss will serve as the principal academic and administrative officer for the Office of the Vice President for Research, which advances, facilitates and manages the full breadth of Penn State’s research activities across the institution. Penn State is ranked among the nation’s top 25 public research universities with research expenditures reaching record highs each of the past two years, including an all-time high of $927 million in 2017-18, which includes $562 million in federal funds.

Weiss also will lead efforts to support and expand Penn State’s innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystem, which supports researchers and students and helps enable technologies developed at the University to make their way from the lab to the marketplace.

“Penn State is nationally and internationally recognized for being an innovative and bold research organization, and I am thrilled to be returning to work with this excellent team and to amplify and grow the research directions that Neil Sharkey has initiated,” Weiss said. “The University attracts world-class researchers and staff with diverse backgrounds. I look forward to partnering with interdisciplinary groups and leading our organization as we continue to be known for our ability to not only solve problems, but also to anticipate challenges that society may face and to tackle the unforeseen.”

In 1990, Weiss joined ARL as a research assistant and rose through the organization to become head of the Autonomous Controls and Intelligent Systems Division, where she oversaw a portfolio of fundamental and applied research and about 100 researchers. While at ARL, she co-led a $9.6 million NASA effort to develop smarter machines for space missions and completed an onsite assignment at the Office of Naval Research in the area of undersea weaponry.

After leaving Penn State in 2006, Weiss joined Georgia Tech as a faculty leader and progressed to chief technology officer and deputy director for research for GTRI, the applied research division of the organization, where she was responsible for a portfolio of independent research and development investments. In 2018, she assumed her current position as interim director for GTRI, which performs more than $600 million in annual research and employs more than 2,300 employees across eight laboratories at 20 field sites throughout the country.

In this role, she provides strategic, technical and administrative leadership, and works collaboratively with the president’s cabinet and university leadership to enact institutional priorities and efforts to foster institutional values. Weiss helped grow GTRI’s research portfolio by more than 25% during this past year, exceeding $640 million in fiscal year 2019 – a new record for GTRI. Weiss shepherded GTRI operations through its first full year as the Army’s largest University Affiliated Research Center, with a 10-year, $2.35 billion contract. During Weiss’ tenure, she unveiled two new locations for GTRI researchers, including a move into Atlanta’s Tech Square neighborhood.

At Georgia Tech, Weiss also served as a principal research engineer, lab chief scientist, and technical director for autonomous systems, and she taught courses in unmanned systems and autonomous robotics, among other topics. She also has worked at Technology Service Corp. and R Co. in California.

Throughout her academic career, Weiss has authored a stream of journal and book publications and holds a patent for an unmanned underwater vehicle. She has been principal investigator on programs sponsored by organizations such as the Department of Defense and Office of Naval Research. She has presented to the House Armed Services Committee’s Seapower and Expeditionary Forces Subcommittee and to the Georgia House of Representatives Science and Technology Committee.

Among her numerous professional affiliations, Weiss chaired the ASTM International Standards Committee. She was a member of the Center for New American Security’s Future Foundry Task Force and served on the technical board of the National Robotics Technology Consortium and the board of directors of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), the largest unmanned systems nonprofit organization.

In 2014, Weiss was named a Regents’ Researcher, which is the highest recognition bestowed by the University System of Georgia to research faculty members whose scholarship is recognized nationally and internationally as pace-setting and innovative. In 2012, Weiss was granted the Women in Technology Woman of the Year Award for Medium-Sized Businesses and the AUVSI Foundation Award for Academic Champion. In 2013, she received a letter of commendation from the Chief of Naval Operations Strategic Studies Group.

Over the years, she has volunteered as a judge for a variety of robotics competitions around the country, including within her local community and school district in Georgia.

Weiss earned her bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Boston University, master’s degree in mathematics from the University of California-Los Angeles, and doctorate in acoustics from Penn State.

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