OIST Pioneer Dr. Robert Baughman to Retire

As OIST celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, it also honors the retirement of one of its longest-serving leaders.

As the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, it also honors the retirement of one of its longest-serving leaders. After being influential at every stage of OIST’s development, Dr. Robert Baughman will retire at the end of the month.

Dr. Baughman’s journey begins over a decade and a half ago. While Mr. Koji Omi, then Minister of State for Science and Technology Policy, and Dr. Akito Arima, former President of Tokyo University, former Minister of Education, and later the Vice-Chair of the Board of Governors for the OIST Promotion Corporation (OIST P.C., the precursor to the university), were busy paving the way for an international, world-leading Japanese university in Okinawa; Dr. Sydney Brenner, the founding President of OIST P.C. was looking for members to join the small group of trailblazers. Due to his world-leading academic and administrative experience at Harvard University and the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Baughman was an obvious candidate.

Dr. Baughman’s adventure at OIST began in the early years, 2005 until 2007, when he served as a half-time advisor to the OIST P.C., which was created in 2005 by the government to build the foundation for accreditation of the university. In 2007, Dr. Baughman joined full-time as Vice President of OIST P.C.

Dr. Baughman was indeed one of OIST’s original trailblazers. He joined when it was a risky, untested idea—and worked alongside other pioneers. Over his years with OIST, Dr. Baughman’s contributions have been numerous, wide-spread, and deep-reaching. This includes putting into operation the breathtaking main campus research facilities, including the Research Support Division for shared resources; coordinating hiring the OIST P.C. PIs; establishing the first AAALAC-approved university animal facility in Japan; building a world-class scientific computing center; implementing the five-year external review procedure for research units; and coordinating the application for accreditation. He also helped prepare the Blueprint for the New Graduate University and the bylaws of the OIST School Corporation. 

Following the accreditation of OIST School Corporation and Graduate University in 2011, he served as Provost and Vice-CEO. Later, in 2014, he turned his attention to the critical need for the university to achieve successful technology transfer. As Executive Vice President, he established the Technology Development and Innovation Center (TDIC).  He describes TDIC as “a full one-stop shop that helps to detect, protect, and commercialize discoveries in the lab in order to carry out the OIST mission to contribute to the self-sustaining development of Okinawa.” Dr. Baughman laid this solid foundation with the vision that the full economic impact of TDIC on the innovation ecosystem in Okinawa and Japan will be realized in the coming years and generations. Dr. Baughman’s footprints are all around us and will continue to be for years to come.

As OIST celebrates its anniversary—and looks to the future—it is impossible to think of the university’s history without Dr. Baughman’s leadership and influence. Dr. Baughman is the longest-serving member on the Board of Governors and the only remaining executive member of the, pre-university, OIST P.C. His retirement is the end of an era of the founding leadership.

Dr. Baughman shares his journey and his legacy with his wife Hidemi, who regularly visited OIST. Perhaps she was best known for connecting people. She would often bring together students, faculty members, staff, and other colleagues for meals and friendship. And her influence was even further reaching in the community. She was primarily responsible for establishing the Onna/OIST Children’s School of Science, which is a science program that brings together OISTers with elementary and junior high school students in Onna Village. Further, she was always interested in sharing art, music, and culture with OIST—a focus that continues today.

In a 2007 speech, Dr. Baughman noted, “In closing, I will say that I really like adventures. OIST is going to be a fantastic adventure. It is great to be here.” How was the adventure? In response to this interview question, he responded, “It turned out to be a fantastic adventure beyond my wildest dreams, which continues today and into the future!”

Even though he retires this month, Dr. Baughman will stay with OIST through the end of May 2022 to support the 10th anniversary events.

Dr. Baughman with founding OIST P.C. President Dr. Brenner at the 2011 inauguration ceremony.

Dr. Baughman and his wife, Hidemi, with then Minister of Okinawa and the Northern Territories, Fumio Kishida, at the 2007 OIST P.C. 2nd Anniversary Ceremony.

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