Honors at Iowa leader leaves after almost 20 years, takes on ICRU director full-time

Bob Kirby has been the associate director of Honors at Iowa for nearly two decades, but his time there has ended.


Hannah Kinson

Bob Kirby, associate director of Honors at Iowa, poses for a picture on Wednesday, Feb.27, 2019. He is leaving his position which will cause a major change to the program. (Hannah Kinson / The Daily Iowan)

Kinsey Phipps, News Reporter

When Bob Kirby arrived at the University of Iowa in 1983, he was a postdoctoral fellow looking to gain some experience and further his research before leaving to become a faculty member somewhere else. Thirty-six years later, Kirby still calls Iowa City home.

Since the establishment of the Iowa Center for Research by Undergraduates in 2006, Kirby’s work has been heavily focused on alerting students to opportunities available for them at the undergraduate level. His job has been 75 percent associate director of Honors at Iowa and 25 percent center director, he said.

Kirby has been with Honors for nearly two decades serving as associate director, he said, but he transitioned to full-time center director Feb. 1.

During his sophomore year of college, Kirby got involved in research, he said, and that created further opportunities for him. Throughout his career, he has seen the value in undergraduate research and providing that opportunity for students, and he has brought that focus to Honors.

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Now as full-time center director, he works with undergraduates, connecting them with faculty members and providing research opportunities for those who seek it.

“For the most part in research, we like to think we accomplish good things, but I think the greatest impact is through the students we bring in and train,” he said. “My hope is we better integrate the undergrad research experience into the overall research efforts of [the UI].”

Program coordinator Melinda Licht, the only other full-time staff member for the center, works closely with Kirby on undergraduate research advocacy, event planning, and maintaining connections with faculty members.

“One of the best things about being able to work with and learn from [Kirby] is he has all this background knowledge. I like to tell students he is the research guru,” Licht said. “What you’ve got is this person with all this knowledge and all this experience, and he is actually really happy to share it with people.”

Honors just completed the hiring process for the new associate director of the program. The person has not yet been announced and will start in April. Until then, Kirby will stick around to help with the transition, he said.

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While Honors is excited about the opportunity for a fresh perspective and new ideas, Kirby’s absence will be tough, Honors Scholar Development Director  Kelly Thornburg said.

“Bob in his time has really facilitated and been a big part of building our relationship with stakeholders on campus. The loss of him in the program is going to take a hit,” Thornburg said. “He has served a really important role.”

One of his lasting impacts on Honors, Thornburg said, is his contribution to making the program’s admissions process application-based. He believed such an application would allow Honors staff to know the students better and reach a wide variety of students beyond test scores and GPAs. The program transitioned fully to application admissions this academic year.

“We are really excited about how we are going to make sure Honors has that complementary community, making a big campus feel like home,” Thornburg said.

As Kirby reflected on his time at Honors, it all went back to the students.

“One of the pieces I’m most excited about is the role of the students in driving both efforts forward. Honors wouldn’t be what it is today without the students who have been a part of it,” Kirby said. “[The undergrad center] is giving students more and more opportunity to be responsible for their education.”

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