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Penny Gordon-Larsen, new vice chancellor for research, hopes to continue collaboration

Penny Gordon-Larsen is the Vice Chancellor for Research at UNC-Chapel Hill. (Megan Mendenhall / Office of Research Communications)

When UNC Research surveyed faculty members, the overwhelming response praised UNC's interdisciplinary collaboration.

Penny Gordon-Larsen, who accepted the permanent position of vice chancellor for research in early July, said strategic priorities are being developed to continue this culture of collaboration.

After joining UNC in 1998, Gordon-Larsen was the associate dean for research at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, and then the interim vice chancellor for research since March of 2022.

Andy Johns, who has worked with her at the school since 2018, described Gordon-Larsen as a strategic and thoughtful person who is driven to solve problems efficiently and creatively.

“She's not one that gets worked up easily, but rather, when we're dealing with challenges, no matter what they are, always keeps a level head and again, works in a very collaborative fashion to try to find solutions that make sense, given the circumstances,” Johns said.

Gordon-Larsen outlined three action items that will guide UNC Research's strategic priorities: innovate, transform and renew.

She said these principles can manifest as supporting pro-innovation research; taking research discoveries to the next level as general knowledge, products or policy; and expanding this culture of collaboration to a state or national level.

“In our state, we're at a very unprecedented moment, when technological and scientific advances create new areas of scientific inquiry that are happening at the same time that we're getting major expansion of regional industries that directly draw on UNC research talents, and in our workforce pipeline,” she said.

One end goal of these new priorities is to collaborate with partners across the state and close the innovation gap.

Blossom Damania, who has worked with Gordon-Larsen since she was interim vice chancellor for research, said Gordon-Larsen already has worked to push innovative technology within UNC Research. 

“I enlisted Penny's help in enabling us to purchase a new cryo-electron microscope for UNC-Chapel Hill and Penny was very supportive of us bringing this new research technology to campus and also contributed funds towards the cost of the instrument,” she said. 

Among these new principles that are going to guide UNC Research’s priorities in the upcoming years, new changes to rules about research are also going to affect how work is done.

Johns said that a focus toward science and security from the federal government has contributed to policies that affect who federally-funded research organizations can collaborate with.

“All of these restrictions that the U.S. government is pushing down to recipients of federal funding are really focused on what I would say protection of intellectual property and trade secrets, but also preventing exfiltration of sensitive data,” he said.

Regardless, Johns said UNC Research is adapting to continue to support researchers and follow the new rules.

“I really think we have a bright future under her direction and leadership and look forward to really ramping up on the strategic plan,” he said.

@dailytarheel |

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