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Robert Shelton leaves Research Corporation to join Giant Magellan Telescope Organization

 Robert N. Shelton has announced he is stepping down as president of Research Corporation for Science Advancement (RCSA) to head the Giant Magellan Telescope Organization (GMTO), effective February 20, 2017. The RCSA Board of Directors has initiated a national search for Shelton’s replacement.

“Elizabeth McCormack, chair of the RCSA Board, said, “RCSA has benefitted immensely from Dr. Shelton’s extensive experience as an academic leader and dedication to basic science research. He improved the foundation’s effectiveness by strengthening the Cottrell Scholar program and opening growth opportunities for the Scialog program. We are grateful for his talented leadership, the great energy he brought and his commitment to excellence in all that he did for the organization.”

Shelton became president of RCSA in March 2014. Previously he held top-level leadership positions in highly ranked public research universities and enjoyed a distinguished career as an experimental condensed-matter physicist focusing on novel materials and their properties. For five years, beginning in July 2006, he served as the 19th president of the University of Arizona, retiring to assume the position of executive director of the Arizona Sports Foundation before joining RCSA.

“I have been privileged to lead an organization with over a century of impact in supporting early career scientists,” Shelton said. “Trained as an experimental physicist, I learned of the unique, effective role of RCSA over 40 years ago as a new Ph.D., and I have always held it in highest regard.”

He added, “While I will miss my colleagues at RCSA, the Giant Magellan Telescope presents a once-in-a-lifetime challenge. This is an opportunity to be part of a team that creates a facility that will shed light on the beginnings of our universe, and provide opportunities to observe objects and phenomena that impact how we think of humanity and our future. 

The roughly $1 billion GMT will enable breakthrough science ranging from studies of the first stars and galaxies to the exploration of planets around other stars. The project, scheduled to be fully operational by 2024, is being developed by an international consortium of universities and research institutions in the US, Australia, Brazil, and Korea. The telescope will be located at the Las Campanas Observatory high in the Andes Mountains of northern Chile. Construction is underway at the site, and the giant mirrors that are at the heart of the telescope are being polished at the Richard F. Caris Mirror Laboratory at the University of Arizona.

During his nearly three years at RCSA, Shelton and his staff completed an extensive strategic plan to focus the foundation’s resources in support of the teacher-scholar model; consolidated two of the foundation’s three main programs, the Cottrell College Science Awards and the Cottrell Scholar program, to emphasize the power of collaboration among scholars at research universities and primarily undergraduate institutions; expanded a third major program, Scialog, by effective partnering with other foundations dedicated to supporting basic research; ensured a prominent role for RCSA in the national Science Philanthropy Alliance supporting basic research at American colleges and universities; launched an impact assessment project well in advance of the work of other foundations and shared this via the Alliance.

The RCSA Board will appoint RCSA Chief Financial Officer Daniel Gasch as acting president to serve until the national search for Shelton’s replacement is completed. Board Chair McCormack noted, “We are confident that Danny will make an excellent steward of the foundation’s activities during the transition and we look forward to working with him.”

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