Wichita State’s chief information officer leaving university

Ravi Pendse’s resignation as vice president for information technology at Wichita State University raised questions that no one at WSU was answering Thursday.

Pendse five years ago turned down a $120,000-a-year raise and an offer to work for North Carolina State University. He said then that he was committed to staying at WSU for his career because he thought the university was committed to becoming a world leader in technology. WSU’s provost at that time, Gary Miller, said he thought Pendse’s Cisco research center would become to the information world what WSU’s National Institute for Aviation Research has become for global aviation.

WSU has said Pendse is the key reason the university has longtime relationships with Internet giant Cisco, that he brought in millions of dollars to run Cisco’s lab at WSU, and that he formed a longtime relationship with NetApp, an Internet company with more than 500 employees. NetApp officials have said Pendse’s inventive mind and ability to teach great tech students was one reason they have that company and those employees in Wichita.

No one was available at WSU to say how those relationships will unfold now.

Pendse’s boss, President John Bardo, is in Europe and not available to answer questions, the university relations office said. They referred questions to Tony Vizzini, WSU’s new vice president for academic affairs. “Being very new to WSU, I am not able to comment on this,” Vizzini said in an e-mail. He said he would refer questions to Bardo.

Pendse will start a similar job at Brown University in Rhode Island on Sept. 1.

Pendse has been a nationally prominent proponent of WSU as a haven for invention and new technology. Bardo, completing his first year in office, frequently cited Pendse, along with NIAR director John Tomblin, as leaders in new technology that Bardo said would be the cornerstone of WSU’s future.

Pendse ran WSU’s Cisco research lab, which brought $19million in Cisco money for salaries, equipment and other resources to WSU.

“I will try to help support that relationship,” Pendse said Thursday, reached by cellphone in Dallas. “Hopefully everything will be fine. I won’t try to re-create that relationship at Brown.”

The NetApp official who has said that company is here in part because of Pendse is Stan Skelton, a WSU graduate and the company’s director of strategic planning and advanced development. On Thursday, Skelton sent a written statement:

“NetApp remains committed to our relationship with WSU. The University continues to be a valuable partner to NetApp and we look forward to the ongoing work with faculty and students in the years ahead focused on various technology projects and initiatives. We wish Dr. Ravi all the best in his new endeavor at Brown University and plan to remain in contact with him as Brown and NetApp have an ongoing research and recruiting relationship.”

Pendse, who earned a master’s degree in 1985 and a Ph.D. in 1994 at WSU, said he spent 27 of his 52 years on the campus and hopes to come back someday.

Pendse said Thursday that it was his decision to leave. At first, he said he wanted to think about what he would say about why he is leaving.

Then he called back and said, “It was one of those things where you decide to go off the edge and try something new. I hope I grow from this.”

Pendse did more than bring an international reputation to WSU technology, said Madhulika Srikanth, a graduate student in mechanical engineering.

She said students call Pendse “Dr. P” and admire him because of how he repeatedly nurtures students in spite of his heavy workload. She said he kept many of WSU’s brightest students focused while they tried to wrap their brains around master’s and Ph.D. degree research in engineering. Like Srikanth, Pendse is a native of India. She said he was a master at calming WSU’s many international students as they struggled with language barriers and culture shock.

“He acted often like a good father to us. I panicked at times, but he would tell me, ‘it’s all right, things happen, be strong.’ He’s like an umbrella, protecting us all the time.”

She said he preached relentlessly to the students about the potential greatness of WSU.

“This is a big loss for WSU,” she said.

Skelton said in January that Pendse is known by top Internet technology engineers around the world. He said his ability to produce a great group of top engineering students year after year was beneficial to the company’s success.

Cisco officials did not return calls Thursday.

Cisco’s interest in Pendse began a little over a decade ago when top company officers including Joe Pinto began noticing that some of the bright young workers they were hiring came from electrical engineering classrooms at a university in a place some people knew little about: Wichita.

“WSU is my school and Wichita is my home and I will always love them,” Pendse said.

Pendse, who helped lead WSU’s efforts to update information technology in classrooms, and taught courses in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, will become the Ivy League school’s vice president for computing and information services.

His departure from Wichita will cost WSU one other person. Sachin Pendse, Pendse’s son, had been awarded a full-ride scholarship to attend WSU, starting this fall, Pendse said.

But Sachin will go with him to Rhode Island now, Pendse said.

Contributing: Matt Reidl of The Eagle