UA Announces Appointments for Two Key Leadership Positions
Liesl Folks will join as senior vice president for academic affairs and provost, and Elizabeth R. “Betsy” Cantwell has been appointed as senior vice president for research and innovation.

By Pam Scott, University Communications
May 22, 2019

The University of Arizona has announced appointments for two senior leadership positions. Liesl Folks will join as senior vice president for academic affairs and provost, and Elizabeth R. “Betsy” Cantwell has been appointed as senior vice president for research and innovation. Both will begin July 29.

“We are so fortunate to have such high-caliber and accomplished leaders joining us this summer to continue the university’s positive trajectory across its academic and research enterprises,” UA President Robert C. Robbins said. “Professors Folks and Cantwell each bring unique and rich experiences from both higher education and business, and they are perfectly suited to help enhance our standing among leading universities and to ensure achievement of many ambitious objectives within the UA’s strategic plan.”

Folks leads in STEM inclusiveness

Liesl Folks

In the role of provost, Folks will oversee student success efforts and all academic operations for the University of Arizona. She will be responsible for creating and implementing programs aligning with the UA’s strategic plan.

She will join the UA from the University at Buffalo, where she was dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. While there, she built a reputation for recruiting women and underrepresented minorities into science and engineering degree programs. She helped spearhead an initiative through the American Society for Engineering Education in which more than 150 engineering deans throughout North America committed to increasing diversity and inclusiveness within their respective schools.

At UB, Folks oversaw tremendous growth of the engineering school, including the addition of more than 75 faculty and 2,700 students. Research expenditures grew by 35% and she spearheaded the creation of two new departments. An internationally recognized expert in the fields of magnetic materials and devices, nanoscale metrology, and spin-electronic devices, Folks holds 14 U.S. patents and has authored more than 60 peer-reviewed papers that have attracted more than 11,000 citations.

Prior to moving into higher education, Folks spent 16 years in research and development in the magnetic data storage industry in Silicon Valley. There, she worked at IBM Almaden Research Center, Hitachi Global Storage Technologies and Western Digital.

Folks serves on the board of directors for CUBRC, a defense sector contractor that specializes in data science and information fusion; chemical, biological and medical sciences; and aeronautics. She also serves on the board of directors for the Buffalo Museum of Science and for the startup company Buffalo Automation Group, and on the advisory board for the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences at Clemson University. This year, she became chair of the triennial congressionally mandated National Academies Review of the National Nanotechnology Initiative.

Folks earned a master’s in business administration from Cornell University after earning both a doctorate and a Bachelor of Science degree in physics from the University of Western Australia.

Cantwell spearheads economic development

Elizabeth R. “Betsy” Cantwell

Cantwell will lead the UA Office of Research, Development and Innovation, which includes the Corporate Engagement Program, Tech Launch Arizona and the UA research parks. She will be responsible for expanding the university’s capacity for knowledge creation and discovery; integrating efforts by faculty, students, staff and executive leaders to move inventions and technologies to the marketplace; increasing the UA’s connectivity with external collaborators; spearheading industry and public partnerships; and increasing total research funding as the UA pursues its goal of being the premier innovation center in the Southwest.

She joins the UA after serving as the CEO of Arizona State University Research Enterprise, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the university’s applied research and development, and as a professor of practice in engineering. Previously she served as ASU’s vice president for research development. During her tenure in that role, annual research expenditures grew by more than $150 million to a total of $610 million.

Cantwell moved to higher education after working for the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, where she was director for economic development and currently serves as a guest scientist. As director, her primary focus was developing research programs for nuclear nonproliferation technologies, energy, advanced manufacturing and advanced laser options for the U.S. Department of Defense. She successfully accelerated Laboratory Directed Research and Development and ultimately tripled LDRD funding to up to $40 million annually.

Cantwell also served as deputy associate director for Global Security at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where she provided strategic leadership in developing new business for the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, as well as private industry. Prior to joining Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Cantwell served as the director for the Threat Reduction Directorate Office of Strategy at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Earlier in her career, Cantwell spent 10 years at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, where she assisted in establishing its Homeland Security Organization following the events of 9/11. She also spent several years at NASA headquarters as a program manager for life and microgravity sciences.

Cantwell is a member of the National Research Council’s Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board; the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine; and the Space Telescope Science Institute, operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy.

She earned a master’s in business administration from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania after earning a doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley in mechanical engineering and a Bachelor of Arts in human behavior from the University of Chicago.


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