To: The Caltech Community
From: Thomas F. Rosenbaum, Sonja and William Davidow Presidential Chair and Professor of Physics
Date: August 18, 2021
Re: JPL Director Search
Michael Watkins, Caltech vice president and director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for the last five years, will step down effective August 20 to assume full time his campus faculty position. I write to update you on our plans to identify Mike's successor.
A search committee of trustees, faculty, and staff that represents broadly the expertise required to identify the next vice president and JPL director has started its work. The committee consists of trustees Barbara Barrett, Bobby Inman, Jon Kutler (co-chair), Michael Mullen, and Dave Thompson (co-chair); professors John Grotzinger (Harold Brown Professor of Geology, GPS Division Chair) and Beverley McKeon (Theodore von Karman Professor of Aeronautics, EAS Division Deputy Chair); and staff members Michael Greene (JPL Director for Communications and Education), Diana Jergovic (VP for Strategy Implementation), Jennifer Lum (General Counsel), and Pete Theisinger (former director, JPL Engineering and Science Directorate). Hillary Tribbs will staff the committee.
JPL is arguably in as good a position as it ever has been, with impactful missions to Mars, Venus, and Europa on the horizon, as well as a powerful slate of earth science missions that are critical to understanding the pace and trajectory of climate change. At the same time, the new director must ensure delivery of those missions on time and on budget, attract and retain a talented, diverse workforce, maintain a vibrant laboratory culture, and deepen connections with campus, NASA, and elected officials.
This is a key position for campus and the Lab, for NASA, and for the nation. We hope to identify the next director by the end of this calendar year, but, as always, finding an exceptional candidate is the most important outcome. To that end, the search committee understands that it is of the utmost importance to generate a diverse pool of talented candidates. We will hire a search firm with expertise in aerospace executive placements to help identify candidates for the committee to vet. Once the committee identifies a short list of candidates for consideration, we will engage campus and JPL leadership, as well as members of the Caltech Board of Trustees, in the final recommendation. We invite your suggestions regarding the search and have set up a dedicated website for you to communicate recommendations to the search committee:
General Larry James has agreed to serve as acting vice president and director for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory during this period of transition. I have every confidence that he, along with the Executive Council and the talented scientists, engineers, and staff at JPL, will continue to position the Laboratory for unparalleled success.