Q&A: Rob A. Rutenbar, Pitt's New Senior Vice Chancellor for Research

Issue Date: 
April 19, 2017

Read more about the appointment of Rob A. Rutenbar here.

What was the first thought you had when you learned of this job?

My initial thought was that I feel fortunate to be able to come back to Pittsburgh. I am excited to be a part of the amazing intellectual and entrepreneurial ecosystem that has been transforming this city for the last quarter of a century. 

What do you see as the key to academic institutions turning their intellectual capital into marketable products?

Communication and networking are the two most critical success factors. Speaking as an entrepreneur, one of the biggest things you learn from being deeply embedded in a large-scale business endeavor is how critical a broad range of skillsets is to the company. It takes a lot to take an idea from the “concept-breakthrough” stage to a product that can be sold into the marketplace. It literally takes a village. You need people who are savvy with the actual technology as well as those who are knowledgeable about marketing and communications, as well as those who are experienced with creating a business model that will lead to success. We have all of those things built into the infrastructure of the University of Pittsburgh. We just need to communicate and network with one another, bringing these centralized divisions together to talk.   

What do you see as the University of Pittsburgh’s richest vein of ideas? In other words, what strengths do we have to exploit?

We should first acknowledge the excellence of the medical and health science enterprises at Pitt, which are absolutely world class. I see an incredible opportunity for them to continue to grow. I also see incredible opportunities in connecting them with the other strong assets on campus, such as the new School of Computing and Information, the Swanson School of Engineering, the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, etc.

Pitt is an extremely strong and comprehensive university, which makes it ideally suited to engage the interesting, grand challenges facing our society. In this day and age, there aren’t a lot of problems that exist in isolation or in a bubble. You may have a technology problem, but that technology problem blends itself into the ethical, legal or business worlds. One of my roles here, which I’m personally looking forward to, is to extract connection opportunities across all of the strong assets of the University community.

What do you hope to accomplish in the next five years?

I hope to make the Office of the Senior Vice Chancellor for Research the go-to place for all of the intellectual assets of the campus to connect to other parts of the University. Most of the interesting problems of the modern world live in the intersections of great disciplines. I’m hoping my office will work as a place of connection for large, new research efforts. 

How does being in Pittsburgh help Pitt achieve these goals? 

One of the many appealing aspects of the University of Pittsburgh is that it is located within a city that genuinely understands the extraordinary value of the academic enterprise. The leadership here understands that the future success of the city and region are linked to intellectual and scholarly pursuits. That’s a wonderful thing.

I’ve always been impressed with Pittsburgh, a truly remarkable and rare city. Pittsburgh is a city that completely lost its core economic and industrial base, and then reinvented itself as an “Eds and Meds” economy. Through “Eds and Meds,” Pittsburgh is conducting bold, entrepreneurial endeavors that are having an enormous impact regionally, nationally and even globally. Modern-day Pittsburgh is seeing a tremendous renaissance period due to this transition.