Ryne Raffaelle is the new vice president for research and associate provost for outreach programs. He worked at RIT from 2000 to 2009 in different capacities, including as the first academic director of the Golisano Institute for Sustainability and director of the NanoPower Research Lab. He left RIT to become director of the National Center for Photovoltaics at the National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden, Colo., the federal government’s central research organization for solar energy development. Here are his thoughts on growing up in Illinois, coming to Rochester the first time and returning to advance the research activities of the university.
I’m taking physics in high school and I’m a senior. A professor from Southern Illinois University came by to talk to our physics class. And he was talking about this new technology that was going to save the world and it was photovoltaic solar cells. After he finished his little talk, he left a stack of scholarship applications in the classroom. I ended up receiving a physics merit scholarship to go to Southern Illinois University. Who would have known some 30 years later that I would become the director of the National Center for Photovoltaics and that a big part of my academic career would be spent doing research on solar cells.
I became a professor at Florida Institute of Technology and was loving life. It was beautiful. We lived right on the ocean. I guess I got a wandering eye or something and started looking around at other opportunities. And a position was open up here so they invited me for an interview. The funny thing was that I remember I was kind of dreading it. It’s one thing to think about changing universities but another to actually go through with it.
I was very impressed driving around and seeing the area. Talking to my wife on the phone that night, I said, ‘If you didn’t know any better, it looks just like where we grew up. It’s cornfields and cows and horses and farms and rolling hills.’
I was here for 10 years. I became a full professor, tenured and started a NanoPower Lab. And I got a call from the National Renewal Energy Lab and originally they wanted my recommendations on who would be a good national center director. And the funny thing was that I was really busy so I was unable to connect with the recruiter. When we finally connected, I said, ‘Oh well I thought about it and I’ve got some ideas.’ And she says, ‘Ironically, we talked to a bunch of people and they all recommend you.’
I go away for two years, I walked across this campus and I’m like, ‘You gotta be kidding me.’ I mean it is amazing what is going on around here. I told Bill (President Destler) and Jeremy (Provost Haefner), ‘I really like what you did with the place while I was away.’
Although we have tremendous challenges (in funding research), I am optimistic about our chances. We have proven the ability to compete and we are actually getting better at it all the time.
We aren’t steering the Titanic. We are a little speed boat. It is very maneuverable. If you look at the medical industry and you look at a lot of these federal funding agencies, they are moving toward us. I see tremendous potential.
Student impact—that is what we are really all about here. Why do we do research? To provide opportunities for our students, to improve our educational offerings.
I got a tremendous feeling of nostalgia coming back here. It’s almost like going home for Christmas to where you grew up. I’ve told everybody that in a couple of years from now when I’m in the midst of the normal kind of stress and challenges, just remind me of how I feel now.