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Start-up supporter leaves CMU for Harvard

Carnegie Mellon Vice President of Research Rick McCullough has left to become the vice provost of research at Harvard University. (credit: Sanjana Baldwa/Junior Photographer) Carnegie Mellon Vice President of Research Rick McCullough has left to become the vice provost of research at Harvard University. (credit: Sanjana Baldwa/Junior Photographer)

On Thursday, after 22 years of service, Rick McCullough left his position as Carnegie Mellon’s vice president of research to become Harvard University’s vice provost of research, starting Oct. 15.

McCullough came to Carnegie Mellon in 1990 as an assistant professor of chemistry and quickly rose through the ranks. By 1998, he had become a full professor and the head of the chemistry department.

“During my first few years, I focused mostly on my research, so I got involved in the administration very early on in my career,” McCullough reflected, as he packed up his office. “I became professor and department head on the same day.”

In 2002, McCullough was appointed dean of the Mellon College of Science.

“As MCS Dean, Rick McCullough greatly expanded the research portfolio of the College and its funding from alumni, foundations, and state and federal agencies,” current MCS Dean Fred Gilman said in an email. “I have benefitted greatly by getting his advice when difficult problems arose, something that I hope I will still be able to seek in the future.”

After he became vice president of research in 2007, McCullough became a champion of entrepreneurship and commercialization of technology — pioneering the Greenlighting Startups initiative to encourage start-up companies that use university-developed technology.

“[Rick] led CMU’s efforts in many technology commercialization activities … meaning when students or faculty try to start up a company,” University Provost Mark Kamlet said. “[As a result] we have the most start-up companies per research dollar spent.”

McCullough was also the founder of several start-up companies of his own over the course of his tenure at Carnegie Mellon.

One of McCullough’s companies, Plextronics, has been remarkably successful and, in 2008, was named one of the region’s 100 fastest-growing companies.

“In some sense, I’m an expert at starting companies,” McCullough said. “I can easily teach those skills ... and I have been a mentor to a number of our small companies and faculty.”

“He had a special ability to take research to the next level and make it commercially viable,” Gilman said in an email.

However, McCullough is ready to move on. “It was a very difficult decision for me. I love Carnegie Mellon. I’ve been here for 22 years, and my heart is in work,” McCullough said. “But once I went there and saw that I would be a part of building the new Allston innovation campus at Harvard ... to have all the interdisciplinary research centers reporting to me was a very large opportunity for me.”

“It was an awfully appealing offer,” Kamlet said. “The kind of things Harvard wanted him to do were right up his alley, and it was really good opportunity for him, sadly for us.”