By Jenna Brady, ARL Public AffairsMay 24, 2018
ADELPHI, Md. -- According to Robin Sharma, "Leadership is not about a title or a designation. It's about impact, influence and inspiration. Impact involves getting results, influence is about spreading the passion you have for your work, and you have to inspire team-mates and customers."
For the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, one leader in particular who lives and works by these values is Dr. David Skatrud, director of the laboratory's Army Research Office and ARL deputy director for basic science, positions he has held since 2006.
As the ARO director, Skatrud leads an organization of scientists and engineers who manage the Army's extramural research program in the life, mathematical, information, physical and engineering sciences.
The ARO research portfolio exceeds $400 million, including more than 1,000 single investigator research projects, over 40 multidisciplinary research centers and two University Affiliated Research Centers.
The research is conducted at over 220 universities across the country and around the world, and is focused on creating new and innovative scientific discoveries to enable crucial future Army technologies and capabilities.
Skatrud also oversees Army-wide programs including the Small Business Technology Transfer Program and Historically Black Colleges and Universities/Minorities Institutions Programs.
Skatrud is set to retire from the laboratory at the end of this month after dedicating over 30 years of service to ARO, including nearly 20 years with ARL.
Before joining ARO, Skatrud received a bachelor's degree from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, in 1979 with majors in mathematics and physics, and a doctorate in physics from Duke University in 1984, where he held a postdoctoral appointment from 1984 to 1985.
Following that, Skatrud joined ARO as the program manager for the Army's extramural research program in Atomic, Molecular and Optical Physics.
In 1991, he was promoted to the position of associate director of the Physics Division, and subsequently promoted to director of the division, where he served until being selected as the Senior Executive Service director of the Engineering Sciences Directorate from 2001 to 2006.
Looking back on his time at ARO, Skatrud said that many milestones and memories come to mind, but that there is a key common underlying thread to all of them.
"Everything of significance that happened was because of great people, the outstanding workforce that I have had the pleasure to work with over the course of my time here at ARO and more recently with all of ARL," Skatrud said.
Skatrud stated that some of the most notable achievements that were accomplished have to do with the simultaneous increase in the quality and level of innovation of the foundational science, and the increase in the degree of Army relevance, impact and technology transition.
"The coupling of great science with relevance to and impact on the Army not only improved the quality of our in-house research and programs, but externally as well with the extramural programs that ARO and the rest of ARL manage," Skatrud said. "Along the way, ARL has built better and stronger connections between internal and external programs, allowing the lab and its partners to move forward together for the betterment of science for the Soldier."
Skatrud said this tighter engagement between ARL's extramural and intramural research also has increased the quality of both.
"These programs and initiatives have not only increased and improved the quality of our in-house research, but they have led to continued growth of innovation as well as connections and collaboration, which is so critical now that ARL is extending its reach across the country and around the world," Skatrud said.
Skatrud noted that it has been extremely gratifying to see how ARO led the creation of specific new major innovative scientific areas ranging from quantum computing, encryption, sensing and networking, to non-graphene based two-dimensional electronic materials, topological materials and even to utilizing pollen for battlefield forensics.
In terms of advice that he leaves for current ARL employees and future researchers, Skatrud says it all comes down to keeping up with innovative collaboration, both internal and external, that has the potential to breed disruptive science and technology for the advancement of Solider protection.
"The Army and the nation need a laboratory that is focused on advancing the science and technology that is needed as the world and battlefield become more technologically advanced and complex, and ARL is that laboratory," Skatrud said. "No one else is going to take care of the needs of the Army and Soldiers like ARL can, so whatever we can do to enhance the quality of the research that is conducted is key, especially in terms of integrated research programs that combine expertise from various disciplines to solve Army problems with the development of disruptive technology. I think the major impetus is to embrace the research community not just in our country, but across the world, to serve our unique critical function for the Army, and initiatives such as Open Campus and the ARL Extended Sites are key is ensuring ARL not just survives, but thrives going into the future."
And while he does not believe he has any special insights or knowledge, Skatrud says the key to success for current and future researchers is to maintain and strive for an open, innovative perspective of looking at how to do things and to be able to effectively communicate ideas that have true potential for the Army and the Soldier.
"It is critical to maintain an open and intellectual curiosity and to question, discuss and explore ideas freely to discover what the most impactful new scientific opportunities are, and then advance them for the benefit of the Army," Skatrud said. "It is one thing to have an idea, or an identified need, but the true power lies in being able to articulate a scientific plan and path forward that can bridge that gap and have a major impact on Army operational capabilities."
Getting closer to his final days at the lab, Skatrud says what he will miss the most are the people and the science.
"What I am really going to miss is the daily interaction with such a talented, dedicated and intellectually stimulating workforce," Skatrud said. "The work is fun and it's gratifying, and that is very much about the science and the mission, but it's the people that make it even better, from the casual conversations and time together, to the debating and determining what we are able to accomplish together."
Upon retirement, Skatrud plans to take some time to catch up with his personal to-do list before venturing into other possible activities such as reengaging in science in some fashion like teaching or research, traveling, including spending more time with his geographically dispersed family and perhaps doing more volunteer work in the community.
Wherever his road leads next, Skatrud said that he has confidence that ARL will continue to grow and thrive as the nation's premier laboratory for land forces, committed to the protection of the Soldiers who risk their lives every day for our freedom.
The U.S. Army Research Laboratory is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to provide innovative research, development and engineering to produce capabilities that provide decisive overmatch to the Army against the complexities of the current and future operating environments in support of the joint warfighter and the nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command.