C21U Executive Director Rich DeMillo Steps Down

The faculty and staff of Georgia Tech’s Center for 21st Century Universities (C21U), a living laboratory for fundamental change in higher education, say farewell to Rich DeMillo, who will step down as executive director, effective June 30, to return to the faculty as the Charlotte B. and Roger C. Warren Chair of Computer Science and Professor of Management. DeMillo has served as C21U’s founding director since its launch in 2010.

“Rich has championed some of the Institute’s most impactful innovations in higher education,” said Rafael L. Bras, provost and executive vice president for Academic Affairs and K. Harrison Brown Family Chair. “His vision and leadership brought C21U into being and made it the incubator of educational innovation that it is today.”

During his tenure at C21U, DeMillo chaired the Institute’s Educational Innovation Council and served as co-chair of the Institute’s Commission on Creating the Next in Education (CNE), culminating in the 2018 release of the report Deliberate Innovation, Lifetime Education. The CNE won the Annual Achievement Award of the Association for Educational Communications and Technology in 2019.

Though he will be departing C21U, DeMillo is taking on a lead role in developing the concept of the Georgia Tech Atrium, one of the most visible offshoots of the CNE. He will assume a new role as principal investigator for the GTatrium™ Project. The development of GTatrium will be in collaboration with Georgia Tech affiliate, Georgia Advanced Technology Ventures (GATV). In his new role, DeMillo will also manage the effort for GATV.

As outlined in the CNE report, the vision for GTatrium is to anticipate rapid growth in online degrees and new markets for nontraditional higher education by providing innovative, financially sustainable, face-to-face, highly personalized, lifetime education experiences and services for Georgia Tech students and others who do not have ready access to the Atlanta campus. A network of GTatrium sites, which may be as small as a pop-up or as large and complex as a retail establishment, will be designed with the intention of reaching the growing number of Georgia Tech learners around the world and will be customized to serve the needs of the surrounding community.

Named Fellow of the Lumina Foundation “for creating C21U, a unique institution,” DeMillo promoted innovations, including blended learning, massive open online courses, the groundbreaking Online Master of Science in Computer Science program, and digital credentials, among others. His first book, Abelard to Apple: The Fate of American Colleges and Universities, helped start a national conversation about innovation in higher education. His second book, Revolution in Higher Education: How a Small Band of Innovators Will Make College Accessible and Affordable, was named best education book of 2016 by the Association of American Publishers.

DeMillo’s history with Georgia Tech dates back to 1972, when he received his Ph.D. in information and computer science from the Institute. After 11 years as a faculty member at the Institute, he departed for roles in business, academia, and government, including the National Science Foundation and HP. He returned to Georgia Tech in 2002 as the John P. Imlay Dean of Computing in the College of Computing, serving in the role until 2009. During his tenure as dean, the College doubled in size, gained top-10 ranking status, and launched the Threads Curriculum, a dynamic, new approach to undergraduate education that drew international acclaim.

“After 18 years of university administration, I’m excited to get back to teaching and research. The opportunity to help build C21U and lead educational innovation at my alma mater has been one of the highlights of my career,” says DeMillo. “Looking forward, I am pleased to take a founding role in an equally groundbreaking project, GTatrium.”

Effective July 1, Steve Harmon, who has served as C21U’s director of education innovation, associate dean of research at Georgia Tech Professional Education (GTPE), and a professor in the School of Industrial Design since 2016, will assume the responsibility of interim executive director of C21U. Harmon will continue as a professor and retain his 50% appointment in GTPE while serving in this new capacity.

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