New head of Wichita State’s Advanced Networking Research Institute will focus on ‘human factors’

04/09/2014 6:39 PM

08/06/2014 12:06 PM

Jobs and innovation are two words that appear frequently in announcements coming from Wichita State University these days, including Wednesday.

WSU has hired Ken Russell, a technologist from North Carolina, to run its Advanced Networking Research Institute, a move officials say will create more tech-related jobs and innovation in Wichita.

Russell is a resident of Charlotte, N.C., with the long title of director of intellectual capital transformation and organization strategist for Cisco Systems Inc. But in short, said his new WSU boss, Russell is a creative thinker.

Russell said he plans to bring a pronounced emphasis on human relations to the roles of invention and technology.

“It’s not good enough any more just to have good ideas,” Russell said Wednesday. “Silicon Valley is littered with the bodies of good ideas that never became successful businesses.

“People in business sometimes don’t spend enough time on people. Human factors can greatly hinder or accelerate the success or failure of any project.

“What I would like to focus on is expanding research, expanding experiential learning – and giving large commercial organizations a reason to come to Wichita and be part of this.”

Russell will arrive next month.

“He brings a wealth of abilities to form partnerships among industries in these information technology areas as well as creative ideas for the innovation campus that will enable future job growth,” said John Tomblin, WSU’s interim vice president for research and technology transfer.

Tomblin’s primary job is to direct of the National Institute for Aviation Research, which he helped grow into a $50 million outfit with 400 employees and a global reputation for aerospace safety testing.

The institute Russell will take over teaches technology and works with businesses to develop technical services. It is much smaller than NIAR, but Tomblin said the vision is to grow it into an institute with the size and national reputation of NIAR.

Tomblin said he hopes Russell will grow it into an agency that creates jobs and new businesses here by teaching students and businesses how to harness data storage, software and networking technology.

Russell has already built a large and business friendly research institute from the ground up, Tomblin said. From 2006 to 2009, Russell served as chief information officer for the David H. Murdock Research Institute, where Tomblin said he drove the development and implementation of a $1 billion “green-field” life sciences research institute.

He currently works in the Research Triangle Park located in North Carolina between Duke University in Durham, North Carolina State University in Raleigh, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. That center, Tomblin said, served as a model when WSU President John Bardo decided to create a new WSU innovation campus.

Cisco, which Russell is leaving, is a large Internet and technology company that chose years ago to partner with WSU and provide up to $19 million to the Advanced Networking Research Institute for salaries and other resources in those years.

It did so because Cisco officials said they had a longtime business relationship with Ravi Pendse, who resigned as WSU’s vice president for information technology last year to take a similar job at Brown University in Rhode Island. Officials from Cisco, and from another technology company, NetApp, had said for years that Pendse was the reason they came to WSU, and NetApp had said Pendse was the reason it kept hundreds of employees located in Wichita.

Cisco plans to stay at WSU, and WSU has now hired one of its creative innovators to run the institute, Tomblin said. NetApp had already said after Pendse’s departure that it planned to stay in Wichita.

“Dr. Pendse was a visionary person who helped WSU create this foundation we called the Advanced Networking Research Institute and started a chapter in a book that was outside of the traditional aerospace industry that we were used to dealing with,” Tomblin said in a statement. “What Dr. Russell brings to WSU in this position is not only the ability to write the next chapter but to move to new book altogether.”

The institute is going to evolve from what Pendse developed years ago, WSU officials said. Cisco, a key component and backer, won’t be the only company involved. The institute will also become more of a component related to other changes Bardo created after he took over in mid-2012, Tomblin said.

WSU is talking to several companies about forming business partnerships with the school and moving into the planned innovation campus, a four-building complex Bardo hopes to construct on the southeast corner of the campus and on half of what is now WSU’s 18-hole golf course. WSU officials describe the campus as a place to house “early stage entrepreneurial university spin-out companies and existing technology-based businesses.”

All of this is crucial not only to develop jobs but to diversify an economy too dependent on aviation companies, Bardo has said.

Bardo, in talks to the faculty senate and the Board of Regents in recent months, has said at least one of those companies is considering taking over the 50,000-square-foot space in a new technology building.

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