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UND vice president stepping down from research post

One of UND's top administrators said Wednesday one reason she wants to retire is the length of time she's been in research management.

Phyllis Johnson, vice president for research and economic development, said "a combination of things" led to her choice to leave at the end of June, including her many years of service and her age. She turns 65 next month, she said.

"It kind of makes you think what you wanna do and if you need a change of pace," she said.

Johnson, a native of Grafton, N.D., joined the university in 2009 but has held various management roles at organizations throughout her 25-year career that included the U.S. Department of Agriculture and UND's School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

UND said that Provost Tom DiLorenzo, whom Johnson reports to, will lead a national search for her replacement.

Proud moments

She said one of her biggest career highlights at UND was her "small role" in developing the country's first Unmanned Aircraft System Research Compliance Committee, which addresses UAS privacy issues. President Robert Kelley said the committee played an important factor in North Dakota's designation as a national test site.

"The fact that UND is leading the nation on how to look at privacy with UAS is pretty exciting," she said.

As former director for USDA's Beltsville (Md.) Area Agricultural Research Service near Washington, D.C., a national laboratory that handles food and agricultural research, Johnson provided guidance to government officials and granting agencies.

In her role there, she also worked with the Office of Science and Technology Policy, which advises the president on the effects of science and technology on domestic and international affairs. She raised issues regarding the preservation of scientific collections to the attention of the Office, and this led to a role representing the U.S. government in international discussion about the topic. That was a real highlight, she said.

"I was working with people from every discipline in science, and people from around the world on some of those policy issues," she said. "It wasn't me that made it happen, but I had a part in it and I thought that was exciting."

What she'll miss

Asked what challenges she's overcome over the years, she said there's hardly a thing in her career that she planned for. Young people just starting their careers should realize early on that that's the way it is, she said.

"You have to be ready to try something you don't maybe entirely feel prepared for, and it could turn out to be a lot of fun," she said.

When she retires in June, she said she'll miss the creativity of the faculty she worked with at UND. She has great fondness for the university, where she received both a bachelor's degree and PhD, she said.

But she doesn't plan on retiring "to her rocking chair," she said.

Johnson is now chairwoman of the area United Way, a member of the Chamber of Commerce's Board of Directors, chairwoman of the Women's Fund with the Community Foundation and president of the Grand Forks Noon Rotary Club.

"I've got some (new) options I'm considering, but I really haven't made up my mind yet," she said. "I'm considering a variety of things. I don't want to leave Grand Forks."

Call Johnson at (701) 787-6736, (800) 477-6572 ext. 1736 or send e-mail to

Jennifer Johnson

Jennifer Johnson is the K-12 education reporter for The Grand Forks Herald.  Contact her if you have any story ideas or tips and visit