October 18, 2023: Robert “Bob” Conn, dean emeritus of the University of California San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering, has been selected to receive the Gordon and Llura Gund Leadership Award from Research!America. This prestigious award recognizes Conn for his significant contributions to increasing the level of advocacy for medical and health research at the local, state, or national level. Research!America is a nonprofit medical and health research advocacy alliance which advocates for science, discovery, and innovation to achieve better health for all. The Gordon and Llura Gund Leadership Award award, along with the full suite of 2024 Advocacy Awards, will be made at Research!America’s annual awards event on March 13, 2024.
Conn is Dean Emeritus of the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering, having led the School through an incredible period of growth and reputation building from 1994 to 2003. Under Conn’s leadership, in 1998, the engineering school at UC San Diego was named the Irwin and Joan Jacobs School of Engineering in honor of a major gift from Irwin and Joan Jacobs, and it climbed to a top-10 ranking among engineering schools in the United States.
From 2009 to 2020 Conn served as president and chief executive officer of The Kavli Foundation, a U.S.-based foundation dedicated to the advancement of basic science research and public interest in science. In 2012, he co-founded the Science Philanthropy Alliance, which is a community of funders that work together to inspire new, emerging and current philanthropists to dedicate a portion of their philanthropy to basic science. In these roles and many others, Conn has worked in new and creative ways to increase support for, and a deeper understanding of, basic science for improving human lives.
“I am grateful to Research!America for this distinctive award. Throughout my career, the aim has been to make a difference, first through science and engineering, and later through leadership, institution building, and advocacy to better the lives of people and help society advance. Now later in life, a recognition such as the Lund award leaves me with a feeling that I might have succeeded to some degree.”
Throughout his career, Conn has been frequently sought after to advise the federal government and scientific agencies. He served on many advisory committees for the National Research Council, the National Academy of Sciences, the U.S. Congress and government executive branch agencies of the U.S. Government, particularly the Department of Energy (DOE). He has served as chair of the Fusion Energy Sciences Advisory Committee of the DOE, as member of the University of California President’s Advisory Committee on Science and Innovation and, in the late 1990’s, as Chair of the Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Physics Division Advisory Committee. Conn is a Fellow of the American Physical Society and the American Nuclear Society.
Institution Building at UC San Diego
“I offer my hearty congratulations to Bob Conn for this well deserved recognition from Research!America for his successes in advocating for medical and health research. Bob has moved the needle in terms of building support for basic and applied research. His efforts in this regard have improved lives and have also strengthened public understanding of the value of basic and applied research. These combined positive impacts are truly remarkable,” said Albert P. Pisano, Dean of the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering.
Conn was recruited to UC San Diego from UCLA in 1994 as dean of the recently founded School of Engineering. While at UC San Diego, he was instrumental in the formation of several research centers, including the UC San Diego Center for Wireless Communications, the UC San Diego Division of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (now the Qualcomm Institute), the von Liebig Center for Entrepreneurism (now the Institute for the Global Entrepreneur) and the Whitaker Center for Biomedical Engineering, in partnership with the School of Medicine. He worked with the Bioengineering Department to build Powell-Focht Bioengineering Hall, the first privately funded academic building on the general campus.
Learn more about Bob Conn’s incredible contributions to UC San Diego in this video, created in 2018 to celebrate his award of the prestigious UC San Diego Revelle Medal.
Additional details regarding Bob Conn’s contributions to engineering are included in this recent article celebrating his selection to receive one of the oldest and most prestigious National Academy of Engineering (NAE) awards: the Simon Ramo Founders Award for 2023. Conn was recognized by the NAE for shaping national science and technology policy through leadership in academia, business, and philanthropy, and for seminal contributions to fusion engineering. Conn received the award on October 2, 2023, at the NAE annual meeting.
Kavli and Beyond
From 2009 to 2020, Conn served as president and chief executive officer of The Kavli Foundation, a U.S.-based foundation dedicated to the advancement of basic science research and public interest in science. During Conn’s 12 exceptional years of service leading The Kavli Foundation, the endowment tripled.
In the announcement signaling Conn’s intent to retire from The Kavli Foundation, he said, “The privilege of leading The Kavli Foundation through a period of extraordinary growth, seizing opportunities all along the way to advance science for the benefit of society, and helping the public understand the role and importance of science to their lives, has been for me a special life experience.”
In the same article, Marica McNutt, president of the National Academy of Sciences, described Bob Conn in the following way. “His creativity, leadership and vision in guiding philanthropic investments have toppled barriers to collaboration, created space for novel exploration, and propelled novel fields to prominence.”