Neil Sharkey, vice president for research at Penn State, has announced that he will retire on June 30, 2019, after a 22-year career at the University. A national search will begin immediately to identify his successor.
Sharkey has led Penn State’s research enterprise since August 2013, initially as interim vice president before being named to the role permanently in April 2016. Sharkey serves as the principal academic and administrative officer for the Office of the Vice President for Research, which advances, facilitates and manages the full breadth of Penn State’s research activities across the institution.
Under Sharkey’s leadership, Penn State’s research expenditures reached record highs each of the past two years, including an all-time high of $927 million in 2017-18, a total that was bolstered by a record $562 million in federal research funding.
In addition, Sharkey has been instrumental in the development of the Invent Penn State initiative, which has led to the creation of 21 innovation hubs at Penn State campus communities statewide since launching in January 2015. Invent Penn State blends entrepreneurship-focused academic programs, business startup training and incubation, funding for commercialization, and University-community collaborations to help turn research discoveries and innovations into valuable products and services.
“Penn State has a rich tradition as one of the nation’s top research institutions, and Neil has contributed immensely to the University’s stature by putting an infrastructure in place where our researchers’ innovative ideas and groundbreaking discoveries can make it to the marketplace and impact the world,” said Penn State President Eric Barron. “Equally important is the role Neil has played in making sure Penn State continues to have the state-of-the-art resources and equipment that are needed to attract and retain the best and brightest minds.
“While Neil’s leadership and collaborative spirit will be missed, I wish him the very best as he enters this new chapter in his life.”
Among his accomplishments as vice president, Sharkey led the creation of the Office of Industrial Partnerships, which works to foster strategic relationships between Penn State researchers and industry partners, as well as the Office of Commercialization and Entrepreneurship, which provides resources and support for Penn State’s growing startup community and innovation hub program.
“I’m proud of the way we’ve been able to supercharge the University’s abilities in tech transfer and startup technologies, giving our entire University, from faculty to graduate students to undergraduates, the ecosystem and resources they need to succeed; to help drive the economy; and move all of our bright ideas, products and processes out to the market, more than Penn State’s ever done in the past,” Sharkey said.
Penn State is home to several major interdisciplinary research institutes, including the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences, Institute for CyberScience, Institutes of Energy and the Environment, Materials Research Institute, Social Science Research Institute, Penn State Cancer Institute, and Clinical and Translational Science Institute. The University also boasts two defense-related research units: the Applied Research Laboratory and the Electro-Optics Center.
“The research enterprise is thriving,” Sharkey said. “I think globally the University has made some wonderful hires and some great retentions that I’ve been involved with over the past six years. The Applied Research Lab is thriving and doing great. The institutes are doing great. There’s a growing relationship between the University Park campus and the Hershey campus that’s producing wonderful collaborative and cooperative work. We’ve made good progress.”
Before serving as vice president for research, Sharkey was associate dean for research and graduate education in the College of Health and Human Development, where he also holds the title of professor of kinesiology. Prior to that appointment, Sharkey served as director of research in the Department of Kinesiology from 2004 to 2007. He also served as acting director of the Center for Locomotion Studies in the Department of Kinesiology from 2002 to 2004. He joined Penn State’s kinesiology faculty in 1997.
“Obviously, life’s all about the people. I’ve been fortunate to work side by side with some really great people, some incredibly bright people, but also just genuinely good people,” Sharkey said.
“Penn State’s a special place. I think people really care about what they’re doing here and are dedicated to the institution. After you’re here for a while as a faculty or staff member, you really do develop a bond to the University. It’s hard to explain, and it’s different from most other places. It’s got something to do with the sports environment, I’m sure, but it’s a little more than that. Maybe it’s the fact that State College is kind of its own island. Whatever the reason, there’s a magic in Penn State that’s palpable."
Sharkey holds a bachelor of science degree in physiology and a doctoral degree in comparative pathology, both from the University of California, Davis. His own research has focused on advancing orthopedic medicine through improved understanding, better diagnosis, and more efficacious surgical procedures. He has published extensively in peer-reviewed journals and delivered many professional presentations pertaining to orthopedic medicine, skeletal tissue mechanics, and musculoskeletal biomechanics.
In retirement, Sharkey said he’s looking forward to doing the things that a busy work schedule has often precluded: traveling, spending time with his parents and visiting his four children and their families, gardening, enjoying the outdoors, and playing music.
“I’m sharpest in the morning, and of course I’m always here working at 7 a.m., so the thought of being able to get out of bed and grab my guitar and get creative, for my own benefit, sounds really neat,” he said.
Sharkey said that State College will remain a home base of sorts for him and his wife, but he’s also planning on spending time in New England, where he grew up, and in the Southwest. He also anticipates exploring the creative side of his personality.
“What I really want to do are creative things,” said Sharkey. “Academics is inherently creative. As a faculty member, my favorite part about being an investigator was designing the experiments and building the experimental apparatus to gather the data. I really like creating. I think I’ve had that artistic bent my whole life. I’ll have time to do that kind of thing, maybe do some remodeling of some places we have, do some building – physical things.
“Believe me, I am not a one-dimensional person, so there’s a lot I’d love to do.”