Dawn Tilbury, who recently led the National Science Foundation’s Directorate for Engineering, has joined the Office of the Vice President for Research to advance a new strategic endeavor that infuses social and technical expertise to address complex challenges facing future communities.

Dawn Tilbury
Dawn Tilbury

The Board of Regents approved her two-year appointment as the inaugural associate vice president for research-convergence science July 15.

“The grand challenges of today, such as clean energy or cybersecurity, cannot be solved by individuals working in isolation, or small groups working within a single discipline. The complexities posed by these grand challenges will require people with multiple disciplines working in a team, bringing their expertise and knowledge together in a convergence research approach,” said Tilbury, whose appointment takes effect immediately.

“I am excited to work with the outstanding faculty at the University of Michigan, in collaboration across the schools and colleges, and with regional partners, to address the challenges that are faced by our society today. With a collaborative spirit, we will be able to bring together the broad and deep expertise in our individual disciplines, to move research forward in service to society.”

Tilbury, professor of mechanical engineering, and of electrical engineering and computer science, and a core member of the Robotics Institute, will work with faculty across the Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint campuses to identify and prioritize university strengths that aim to address issues that impact future communities.

The federal government has identified future communities as a key research priority, and so over the next two years Tilbury will work to develop an infrastructure of expertise around the intersections of equity, infrastructure, sustainability and health.

OVPR already has begun fostering collaboration among schools, colleges and units in areas ranging from accessibility and mobility to technology and climate so the university is best positioned to address and respond to this emerging federal priority. This strategic approach led by OVPR aims to drive national research priorities around complex societal challenges that will impact communities for years to come.

“The ultimate goal is to enhance our coordination and advance the extraordinary activity across our three campuses that aims to find solutions to those key challenges that will influence future communities,” said Rebecca Cunningham, vice president for research and the William G. Barsan Collegiate Professor of Emergency Medicine.

“This type of research readiness approach ensures that we are maximizing the expertise across our three campuses, bringing that talent together so that we can successfully address and combat key issues of national importance.”

Tilbury, who received a Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, joined U-M in 1995 as an assistant professor of mechanical engineering. She has held multiple administrative positions in the College of Engineering, including a three-year term as its associate dean for research.

NSF appointed Tilbury in 2017 to lead its Directorate for Engineering, where for four years she supported engineering research and education that was critical to the nation’s future, while also fostering innovations that benefit society.

While at NSF, she was one of the originators of the Convergence Accelerator, a new structure to accelerate the process of convergence research and generate tangible outcomes. She also co-led the NSF Big Idea on the Future of Work at the Human-Technology Frontier and NSF INCLUDES, with a goal of diversifying the nation’s STEM workforce.

Her research interests lie broadly in the area of control systems, including applications to robotics and manufacturing systems. She was one of the pioneers in the analysis and design of control systems over communication networks. More recently, she and her group are leveraging the huge amount of data generated by manufacturing systems, that is now easily accessible due to networking and high-performance computing, to improve the overall performance of the entire manufacturing system.

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