Bill Gern is quick to give credit.
It was then-President Terry Roark, he says, who set the University of Wyoming on its current course for research and economic development. And Jon Benson who led the Wyoming Technology Business Center (WTBC) to statewide prominence. And Larry Stewart who guided Manufacturing-Works’ path to viability.
Gene Watson and Chris Bush played key roles along the way. So did Roark’s successors, Philip Dubois and Tom Buchanan. What Gern isn’t quick to do is take credit.
“I don’t go out and counsel small businesses. I don’t go tell a manufacturer how to run leaner lines. I don’t do that,” says Gern, UW’s vice president for research and economic development. “We have people who do that who are really good at their jobs.”
Gern is pretty good at his, too.
Since ascending to one of the university’s top administrative positions in 1995, Gern has overseen unprecedented advances in UW’s research enterprise, which has more than tripled from $28 million to $86 million. And he helped spearhead multiple initiatives, including the Wyoming Entrepreneur Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and the university’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs, that have helped drive economic development across the expansive Cowboy State.
That’s not all. Gern has nurtured UW’s relationship with the Wyoming Business Council, which, since its launch in 1998, has worked to facilitate the state’s economic growth, and he was a central figure in the creation of Wyoming Undergraduate Research Day, an annual celebration since 1999 of UW’s commitment to undergraduate research. Just don’t expect to catch him patting himself on the back.
“You don’t build a research enterprise at a university without great faculty,” says Gern, noting, too, that UW’s research endeavors employ about 300 students. “I always say that these new records are set every year because of the faculty. We don’t write the grants, they write the grants. We’re not the competitive ones, they’re the competitive ones. We provide the support.”
He adds, “It really is all about hiring great people and giving them the tools they need to succeed.” The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR)-Wyoming Supercomputing Center is the latest tool in UW’s belt.
The nation’s newest supercomputer opened in October in the North Range Business Park in Cheyenne, signaling a new era of scientific research and economic development that Gern believes will put Wyoming “at the forefront of innovation and discovery.”
UW researchers and their collaborators will receive a 20 percent allocation annually at the supercomputing center, or about 75 million core hours, as part of the university’s partnership agreement with NCAR. Also in October, UW opened its Advanced Research Computing Center, nicknamed Mount Moran after a mountain in western Wyoming’s Tetons, which will further bolster the university’s computing initiatives.
“I’ve tried to think of a way to describe just how important this infrastructure is for the campus, and I have a hard time finding a parallel. But it’s probably as important in our history as creating Ph.D. programs. It has that level of importance,” says Gern, who came to UW in 1979 as an assistant professor in the Department of Zoology and Physiology. “The decision to create Ph.D. programs really launched the university on this research trajectory.
“The same thing is true for what we’re doing with research computing,” he says. “It’s going to take us on a trajectory that has great importance for the university, the state and the nation.”