From Swords to Plowshares: Truly Takes the Helm

After a record 16 years as director of GTRI, Donald Grace retired in late 1993. He was succeeded by Richard Truly. Truly was a former NASA Administrator, retired vice admiral, and space shuttle astronaut — as well as a Georgia Tech alumnus.

President Bill Clinton's administration brought different priorities to the federal budget. Defense spending — GTRI's main source of contracts — was cut by about 66%, freeing up the so-called "peace dividend" for Clinton's priorities in environmental protection, transportation, and communications.

This change was reflected at GTRI. Its adjusted strategy emphasized expanded research to address emerging non-defense technological needs, improved cost-effectiveness, and increased collaboration with Georgia Tech's academic units and interdisciplinary centers.

Shifting from swords to plowshares, to use one of Truly's favorite expressions, could not happen overnight, according to Janice Rogers, Truly's assistant. "We did successfully transition some of our radar work into breast cancer imaging and other medical applications," she said. "Some of our imaging and geographical information systems were applied to weather mapping, cloud mapping and predictions, predictability analysis, and those types of things."

Truly's shakeup included a transition for Rogers, too. He wanted her to take the new position of director of administration, making Rogers GTRI's first female in a senior leadership position.

"The job had to be defined," she said of the position. "One of the very first things that I had to do was revamp the GTRI policies and procedures manual." The manual, which included job descriptions, would reflect the business practices and approaches Truly felt were needed in the new operating environment, according to Rogers.

Contract research can be a difficult business from a researcher's perspective. It requires not only detail-oriented, scientific skills, but marketing and money-management ability, too.

"All of our research faculty are responsible for getting their own support, and support for their teams," Rogers said. "If you're not covered, you're not working, and if you're not working, you're not getting paid," she added, "Not everyone is capable of working in that environment."

Rogers retired in 2006, following a career that spanned 30 years and four GTRI directors. When she left, both the GTRI research staff and support staff were well-mixed between male and female workers. This was a sharp contrast to what she encountered when she started — research positions filled mostly by men and support roles staffed largely by women.