The Research Triangle Park

Leading North Carolina: Dr. Randy Woodson

By Apr 05, 2016

Randy Woodson is an educator and a facilitator of public private partnerships. The internationally renowned plant scientist is also the 14th chancellor of North Carolina State University.

Since he arrived at NC State in 2010, the university has experienced many transformative changes — the opening of the James B. Hunt Jr. Library on Centennial Campus, the launch of the College of Sciences and the completion of the Lonnie Poole Golf Course, to name just a few.

Randy also guided the university in securing leadership roles in groundbreaking national research projects, such as the Next Generation Power Electronics National Manufacturing Innovation Institute, the Consortium for Nonproliferation Enabling Capabilities and the Laboratory for Analytic Sciences. These federally funded projects partner government and industry with top faculty and students to create solutions to some of society’s biggest challenges.

NC State is a research powerhouse. It’s the only university in the nation with two prestigious National Science Foundation Engineering Research Centers — the Future Renewable Electric Energy Delivery and Management Systems Center known as FEEDM, and the Center for Advanced Self-Powered Systems of Integrated Sensors and Technologies known as ASSIST.  

He came from Purdue University, where he served as executive vice president for academic affairs and provost. Randy grew up in Fordyce, Ark., and attended the University of Arkansas, receiving a B.S. in horticulture. He received his M.S. and Ph.D. in plant physiology from Cornell University.  He joined the Louisiana State University faculty in 1983, moving to Purdue University as an assistant professor of horticulture in 1985.

Long before Randy arrived at NC State, he was familiar with the Research Triangle Park. As a plant scientist, he had consulted with companies such as Ciba-Geigy and Syngenta. He has contributed a body of knowledge to the field of plant science. His research has covered plant genetics, molecular biology, biotechnology and sustainable bioproducts development. His work has been featured in BusinessWeek, The Futurist and Discover.

“I always thought it was a beautiful setting for science to take place,” recalls Randy, who first visited the Park in the early 1980s. “I was struck by these companies operating on some level of obscurity behind the pine trees.”

As chancellor of NC State, Randy sits on the Research Triangle Foundation board. He’s helping to create a new landscape and shape the next generation of Park workers.

Dr. Warwick A. Arden, provost and executive vice chancellor at NC State, says Randy keeps his finger on the pulse of the state. “As the chancellor of the largest university in North Carolina, he understands the role that education plays not only in personal development but in the economic development of the Triangle region and the state,” Dr. Arden says.

“We have students at NC State from every one of the counties in North Carolina and from many countries.  He has interactions with the public, stakeholders, legislators, students and their families. He has a very good understanding of the needs of the region and the state,” Dr. Arden says.

Randy and the RTF board are writing the next chapter of the Park now. He sees a less isolated place. Instead, he imagines a place with a critical mass, where people work across company and university lines.

He is excited about more collaboration between the universities. The Park is defined by Duke University, UNC – Chapel Hill and NC State. Durham has developed its own eco-system around American Tobacco campus, which Duke has been involved in. Meanwhile, NC State has Centennial Campus, its own partnership-driven research and technology community.

“We all have things we are trying to nurture. We have collaborations on our campuses. Our faculty collaborates with Duke and Carolina more than any other universities.  But the question is how can those collaborations be strengthened by the Park?”

The Park is a community defined by the companies, he explains. “What I think RTP will be going forward is a community defined by the Park,” Randy says. Currently it’s a collection of communities isolated by the woods. It’s only connected by pathways and roads. We see the Park connected in the future by human interactions.”