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Sanders named interim director of DPI
U of I-led innovation initiative targets new jobs, economic growth

William H. Sanders, an award-winning educator and researcher who heads nationally ranked engineering programs at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has been named interim director of the Discovery Partners Institute (DPI), a new world-class innovation center led by the U of I System, President Tim Killeen announced today.

Sanders, who also has directed two campus-wide research centers during his more than 20 years in Urbana-Champaign, began his new role Aug. 16 in a designate capacity, pending approval by the Board of Trustees at its Sept. 27 meeting. Killeen said Sanders will be in charge of all aspects of launching and operating DPI, a Chicago-based institute that will be the cornerstone of the Illinois Innovation Network (IIN).

The initiatives were created to accelerate job creation and economic growth through groundbreaking research and innovation. Earlier this year, the state approved $500 million in capital funding to develop DPI, an innovation center that will be home to leading-edge research, and IIN, a virtually connected network of regional hubs that will spread the institute’s impact across the state.

“Bill is an acclaimed educator, innovator and administrator,” Killeen said. “He shares our vision of the power that DPI holds to foster the pioneering innovation that creates new businesses, new jobs and new waves of progress for the people of Illinois and beyond.”

Sanders called the chance to build upon and make real the vision for DPI a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” He said he is committed to fulfilling DPI’s promise of becoming a new model for higher education that combines the strengths of industry, academia and government in a new way that drives both academic discovery and economic growth.

“DPI will harness the unique strengths and scale of the U of I System universities – together with academic and industry partners from Chicago, the state, and the world – to create an unstoppable engine for innovation,” said Sanders, who moves to DPI after serving as head of Urbana’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE).

As interim director, Sanders will lead all facets of planning and operations, including planning to build the new downtown Chicago institute, faculty and staff hiring and engagement, development of research and educational programs, and forging agreements with corporate and academic partners. DPI will operate as an executive office of the president within the U of I System and a hub within the IIN. As such, Sanders will work as a member of the leadership team in system offices and work closely with the chancellors, provosts, and deans of all three system universities.

U of I Vice President for Economic Development and Innovation Edward Seidel will continue to help oversee development of DPI and IIN, Killeen said. Seidel has led the planning team that designed the approach for the new research and innovation enterprise, and brought the projects to the point where a full-time team is needed.

“These initiatives are the product of Ed and his team’s vision and passion,” Killeen said. “Bringing Bill on board will add to the team’s talent, creativity and bring day-to-day attention that is needed now to get DPI up, running and driving progress for our state.”

Seidel added: “I’m looking forward to working with Bill to bring the DPI vision to reality.”

Sanders, 57, has been head of the electrical and computer engineering department in Urbana-Champaign since 2014. ECE ranks third in the nation for graduate computer engineering, fifth in the nation for undergraduate computer engineering, fourth in the nation for graduate electrical engineering, and sixth for undergraduate electrical engineering in the latest ratings by U.S. News & World Report.

He joined the university’s faculty in 1994, and has a long history of academic leadership in Urbana-Champaign. Along with his term as head of ECE, he served as founding director of the Information Trust Institute (ITI) and director of the Coordinated Science Laboratory (CSL).

At ITI, he built the institute from the ground up, growing it to about 100 faculty members from 28 departments, enabling ITI to create interdisciplinary research teams to address important societal-scale problems related to cybersecurity and trust. While at CSL, he and other faculty members created the Advanced Digital Sciences Center, a bricks-and-mortar research laboratory in Singapore that has received more than $90 million in funding from the Singaporean government to achieve its research vision.

While ECE head, the department created two new ECE graduate degrees programs – a professional master of engineering degree that combines graduate-level technical work with professional training and a combined bachelor of science/master of engineering degree program. He also created two new ECE engineering undergraduate degree programs at Zhejiang University’s new international campus in China.

He also led an aggressive faculty hiring program in ECE that has hired 35 new tenure-track faculty, eight teaching faculty, and five research faculty since January 2014. During this time, he more than doubled the number of women faculty members in ECE, from seven to 17, and helped provide millions of dollars of department funds in scholarships to admitted first-year women and underrepresented minority students – resulting in the largest undergraduate enrollment of women ever in ECE.

A Donald Biggar Willet Professor of Engineering, Sanders has won awards for his teaching and research, which focuses on computer system security and dependability. He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and the Association for Computing Machinery. Sanders holds a PhD in computer science and engineering from the University of Michigan, where he also earned his masters and undergraduate degrees.

Plans for DPI and IIN were announced in October. Work is currently underway on an implementation plan that will establish a timetable for opening and other details of the enterprise, where world-class researchers will work side-by-side with students and businesses to foster next-generation innovation and workforce development.

DPI will be developed on a donated site along the Chicago River, and will bring together top faculty in agriculture, healthcare, computing and other critical fields from the U of I System and partner universities that already include the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, and Tel Aviv University. Nearly 100 new researchers also will be added and together they will connect with hundreds of businesses and thousands of students over time, as well as with entrepreneurs and venture capital firms.

Their research and educational collaborations will address real-world challenges, promoting the kind of breakthrough discoveries that create new products and companies. Those innovations will fuel economic growth, while also providing hands-on experiences for students and nurturing a skilled workforce for the city and state.

The institute will be the centerpiece of IIN, a virtually connected statewide enterprise allowing DPI staff to work with university and business partners in other regions across the state on research and education initiatives that help launch new companies and lift communities.

IIN sites will include the U of I System’s universities in Chicago, Springfield and Urbana-Champaign, and could ultimately grow to other sites in Illinois and beyond.


The University of Illinois System is a world leader in research and discovery, and the largest educational institution in the state with more than 83,000 students, nearly 25,000 faculty and staff, and universities in Urbana-Champaign, Chicago and Springfield. The U of I System awards more than 22,000 undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees annually.