Leadership changes at U of I’s Prairie Research Institute
Founding Executive Director steps down; interim named

September 29, 2014

The Prairie Research Institute will have a new leader this fall, as Founding Executive Director Bill Shilts returns to his research roots and Brian Anderson, currently Director of the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS), becomes Interim Executive Director of the Institute.

Home to more than 1,000 researchers and staff and $80+ million in external research funding, the Institute provides objective research, expertise, and data on the state’s natural and cultural resources.

“The Prairie Research Institute plays a major role in the university’s research enterprise,” said Peter Schiffer, Vice Chancellor for Research at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

“We are grateful for Bill’s commitment to founding the Institute and to his service to the university and the state, and I am confident that Brian will be an excellent interim leader,” Schiffer said. “Finding a visionary leader to permanently fill the Executive Director position is one of my top priorities.”

"The Prairie Research Institute has thrived over the past 6 years since joining the university including more than doubling grant funding,” said Shilts. “We continue to address Illinois' most pressing economic, cultural, and natural resource issues. I am proud of my role leading this tremendous organization and pleased to leave it in the hands of a strong leadership team."

Shilts has served as Executive Director of the Institute since its founding, successfully leading the effort to transfer the scientific surveys from state agencies to the university, creating a major research institute. Other notable accomplishments under his leadership include working with the Illinois Department of Transportation to bring the Illinois State Archaeological Survey (ISAS) into the Institute and leading efforts to pass legislation in 2013 recognizing ISAS and creating seven state scientist positions. He also changed the Institute’s original name to the Prairie Research Institute, creating a strong identity. Before becoming Executive Director, he served as the Chief of the Illinois State Geological Survey for 13 years. He came to Illinois after a 30-year career at the Geological Survey of Canada, where he held positions of increasing responsibility from 1965 to 1995. A noted geologist, he will transition to a senior research position in the Prairie Research Institute.

In assuming the position of Interim Executive Director, Brian Anderson stated, “I am very happy to play a role in transitioning the Institute to new leadership and ensuring its continued long-term success. With a five-year strategic plan in place, we are well–positioned.”

Anderson became the Chief of INHS in 2008, just before the formation of the Prairie Research Institute. He previously served for four years as Assistant to the President for Planning and Institutional Improvement at Lincoln Land Community College, following nearly 20 years in Illinois state government. Within the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, he served as both the Director of the Office of Scientific Research and Analysis, as liaison between IDNR and the Illinois Scientific Surveys and State Museum, and, as Director of the Office of Resource Conservation.

A search for a permanent Institute leader is underway, and a plan for interim INHS leadership is under development in consultation with INHS staff.

Current Institute research and service include a number of prominent projects, including a multi-million dollar Energy Frontier Research Center funded by the U.S. Department of Energy to study carbon dioxide storage; major archeological work for the construction of the new Mississippi River Bridge at St. Louis; water supply planning in several regions of Illinois including the Northeast; development of technologies and service programs to green industry; updating floodplain mapping for the state of Illinois; and understanding and managing Asian Carp and other invasive species.

The Prairie Research Institute was established in 2008 at the University of Illinois and is the home of the State Scientific Surveys: Illinois Natural History Survey, Illinois State Archaeological Survey, Illinois State Geological Survey, Illinois State Water Survey, and Illinois Sustainable Technology Center. The institute is the applied research arm of the state of Illinois, and provides anticipatory research, long-term data collection, and a capacity for rapid deployment and response to sudden or unexpected circumstances. For over 160 years the surveys have applied cutting-edge science and expertise to keep Illinois’ economy, environment and people prosperous and secure.

Updated 09/30/14 AW

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