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U. names CBE professor Rodney Priestley to new vice dean of innovation position


Courtesy of the Office of Communications

The Office of the Dean for Research has named professor of chemical and biological engineering (CBE) Rodney Priestley to the newly created position of Vice Dean for Innovation, effective Feb. 3. CBE professor and Dean for Research Pablo Debenedetti said that, among the several candidates he interviewed for the position, Priestley's status as a well-renowned researcher, combined with his past entrepreneurship experience, made him stand out.

The University statement on Priestley’s appointment stated that the vice dean of innovation will help build on the “momentum” established by increased corporate funding for research, as well as by recent University-industry research collaborations, such as the Princeton Innovation Center BioLabs on the James Forrestal Campus, the Google artificial intelligence lab in Palmer Square, and the University’s microbiology research partnership with Microsoft. Debenedetti said that while Priestley will not be working directly with these ongoing projects, he will work closely with the Office of Corporate Engagement and Foundation Relations to expand ties with industry, external entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, alumni, and other potential partners.


Another key aspect of the Vice Dean for Innovation's role, Debenedetti explained, is to work closely with the Office of Technology Licensing to enable on-campus researchers to translate their work into commercial or non-profit endeavors. These roles play into Priestley’s past experiences, as he is a co-inventor of four patent-pending technologies, according to the University statement.

“He is a very well-known and well-respected researcher in the area of material science, and he has started companies based on his research at Princeton, so he has direct experience in this arena,” Debenedetti said.

The Vice Dean for Innovation will also be responsible for “fostering a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship,” said Debenedetti, through workshops, training, networking opportunities, and providing access to business and legal expertise.

Debenedetti said that while the University already had a successful ecosystem for innovation and entrepreneurship, it previously lacked a single, visible point of entry for faculty and students to both engage with external industries and put their research into action. In his new role, Debenedetti said, Priestley will “serve faculty and other members of the Princeton research community by becoming the natural point of entry for innovation and entrepreneurship across campus.”

“[Priestley is] very excited about the place we are but also has a very compelling vision about the place where he wants to take us,” Debenedetti added.

Dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science Emily Carter noted in an email to The Daily Princetonian that Priestley will work closely with the Keller Center for Innovation in Engineering Education and will “catalyze new interaction between Princeton faculty, students, postdocs, and research scholars with the outside innovation ecosystem that includes entities from startups to large corporations.” More generally, she wrote, the engineering school “is devoted to science in the service of society and thus will be an enthusiastic supporter and partner of [Priestley’s] work.”


The University statement listed a multitude of honors and awards Priestley has received for both his research and his teaching, including the World Economic Forum Young Scientist award in 2018, the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers in 2013, The Root 100 list of most influential African Americans in 2014, and the American Society for Engineering Education’s list of 20 Under 40 Inspiring Young Faculty in 2014.

“His wide-ranging experiences and successes as [a] scholar, entrepreneur, and partner with industry are exactly what this leadership role needs,” Carter added.

In addition to teaching, researching, and fulfilling the new role of Vice Dean for Innovation, Priestley serves as the associate director of the Princeton Center for Complex Materials, the director of graduate studies for the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, the faculty co-director of the newly created Presidential Postdoctoral Research Fellows Program, a faculty adviser to the National Society of Black Engineers student chapter, and has served as a faculty advisor to Wilson College engineering students.

“I am extremely honored to have the opportunity to work with colleagues across campus and to help define and implement the next phase in Princeton’s emergence as a leader in innovation and entrepreneurship,” Priestley said in a statement to the University.

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The Office of the Dean for Research posted the announcement on July 31.