President’s Biography

Dr. Robert K. McMahan

President of Kettering University / 2011 - present

Dr. McMahan became the seventh President of Kettering University in August 2011. Kettering, formerly known as GMI, is one of the nation’s premier engineering, science, and business universities and is dedicated to offering a curriculum that deeply integrates classroom learning with experiential and co-operative educational opportunities for all students. Kettering is a national leader in preparing STEM and business entrepreneurs and innovators. U.S. News & World Report ranks Kettering among the nation’s finest specialty schools. The Wall Street Journal ranked Kettering first in the country in career preparation; The Economist noted that Kettering “produces the fourth-highest share of inventors” among selective colleges and universities, surpassing universities such as Stanford, Harvard, and Carnegie Mellon. 

Dr. McMahan was one of four presidents highlighted in the book Governance Reconsidered, by Susan Pierce in Chapter 8 under “Exemplary Tales: Successful Presidents.”

Prior to joining Kettering, Dr. McMahan was the Founding Dean of and Professor of Engineering in the Western Carolina University College of Engineering and Technology, a role he was asked to take by the Chancellor and UNC system leadership. In this role he was charged with the creation of an innovative, but replicable, college of engineering model for regional universities centered around the development of a set of project-based, regionally-engaged engineering and technology programs.

Prior to that, while simultaneously holding the position of Research Professor of Physics and Astronomy at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (a position he held from 1989-2010), Dr. McMahan was Senior Advisor to the Governor of North Carolina for Science and Technology, and the Executive Director of the North Carolina Office of Science and Technology. In that role, he also acted as a Senior Advisor to the Secretary of Commerce, the General Assembly, and the Economic Development Board. He was responsible for developing and implementing the state’s technology and university-based economic development programs as well as acting as a primary liaison between the Governor’s administration and the 16-campus UNC and 58-campus NC Community College systems.

Prior to his work with the Governor, he was a Senior Technology Strategist and Venture Capitalist for In-Q-Tel, a private venture capital organization funded by the Central Intelligence Agency, where he was responsible for developing a technology investment strategy for the intelligence community, and then deriving, molding, and structuring individual investments and technologies within the portfolio in response to it.

Before joining In-Q-Tel, he was Executive Vice President of Engineering and R&D for GretagMacbeth, LLC, where he was responsible for the company’s worldwide research, engineering, and product development activities and for the creation and operation of the company’s Advanced Technology Laboratories in the Research Triangle Park. He joined GretagMacbeth after its acquisition in 2000 of MRL, the advanced technologies company he founded in Cambridge, MA and later expanded to the Research Triangle Park of North Carolina. He has been involved in the creation of a number of technology startups, and he has co-led multiple significant equity and LBO capital raises.

In addition to the above activities, Dr. McMahan has also been a visiting fellow at both Oxford University and the University of Durham. While at the University of North Carolina he led active NSF and PPARC funded research programs in astrophysics while also serving as the sole science advisor to the university’s advanced 4-meter telescope project (SOAR) in Chile. He has also held a number of other academic appointments, including Adjunct Professor at the North Carolina State University and Visiting Assistant Professor at Dartmouth.

He received dual Bachelors’ Degrees in Physics and in the History of Art from Duke University, a Ph.D. in Physics from Dartmouth, and completed postdoctoral studies at the Harvard University - Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory Center for Astrophysics under the mentorship of MacArthur Fellow Margaret Geller, where he also held an appointment as an Astrophysicist at the Smithsonian Institution. He has completed executive leadership programs at the Harvard Kennedy School and the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Dr. McMahan has extensive national and international speaking, consulting, and management experience in organizations and initiatives related to technology and product development, research policy, investment capital, entrepreneurship and innovation-based economic development. He has spoken and consulted with national and international organizations interested in innovation policy, investment capital, technology based economic development, university research, and the university’s role in economic development at the invitation of organizations including the National Academies, the US Congress, and the Federal Reserve as well as a number of international governments.

Dr. McMahan participated in research that led to the cosmological discoveries of the “Great Attractor,” as well as the “bubble and void” structure of the universe and the “Great Wall,” the latter of which at the time of discovery was the largest known structure in the universe. These are now foundational elements of modern dark matter theory. He has published over fifty papers in scientific and engineering journals, sits on a number of corporate boards and state and national commissions, and holds multiple domestic and international patents.

Dr. McMahan has led the University through a transformational decade, described in this special edition of Kettering Magazine

Dr. Robert K. McMahan

Dr. Robert K. McMahan

President and Professor of Physics