With an extraordinary passion for serving and a distinguished pedigree to lead, Amr Elnashai has taken the helm of UH’s dynamically growing research organization as the new vice president for research and technology transfer.

A Fellow of the British Royal Academy of Engineering, Elnashai came to UH earlier this year from Penn State University, where he led one of the top engineering programs in the nation. A civil engineer by training and a native of Egypt, Elnashai received his undergraduate degree from Cairo University and his M.S. and Ph.D. from Imperial College London, where he then spent 16 years as a faculty member.

“Amr has the right experience to help us achieve our ambitious goals,” said President Renu Khator. “He has led transformative changes wherever he has been, so we are excited that he came to UH.”

Here are some thoughts from Elnashai on his vision, his interests and his plans for UH:

What are you tackling first?

To succeed as a vice president for research and technology transfer requires a clear balance of service and leadership. Right now, I am listening to deans, directors and faculty to understand the UH research enterprise and administration system; I am reviewing and streamlining all service functions in the Division of Research; and I am working collaboratively with the provost, deans and directors to develop priority areas specific to UH, the city of Houston and our corporate partners.

How does being in Houston change the game for you?

My first academic position was at Imperial College London, where partnership opportunities far exceeded our capacity to undertake projects. From there I moved to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, then to Penn State, in central Illinois and Pennsylvania, respectively. Both are excellent academic communities but a little further from major industry hubs. So coming back to a major international city to work for one of the fastest growing, progressive and ambitious universities in the nation provides exciting opportunities to re-engage with industry that is headquartered here.

Houston was the first U.S. city I visited to attend the Offshore Technology Conference more than 30 years ago. Following the completion of my Ph.D., I worked for the offshore oil and gas industry, so coming to Houston is a homecoming of sorts.

What is your area of research expertise?

As an earthquake engineering professor and professional, I have surveyed 19 major earthquakes in the field. I have seen the effects of earthquakes first hand, and even helped in some post-earthquake reconnaissance and retrofitting projects. I have a collection of nearly 10,000 photos of earthquake damage that I often look at to deepen my understanding of the causes of extensive damage and the impact of ground shaking on lives and livelihoods.

What is your first impression of UH?

I am struck by the number and diversity of initiatives, proposals and projects in the university—and how the deans and directors have been empowered to lead these. The vitality, vigor and ambition of the UH community is amazing and infectious.