Thomas Zurbuchen has announced his immediate resignation from the Northern Michigan University Board of Trustees. He said he is unable to complete his eight-year term after being named associate administrator for NASA Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. He assumed his new duties Oct. 3. Zurbuchen oversees NASA's programs in astrophysics, planetary science, earth science and heliophysics, which are funded at about $5 billion per year.
"Accepting Thomas' resignation from the NMU Board of Trustees is bittersweet,” said NMU President Fritz Erickson. “We couldn't be more proud of or happier for Thomas regarding his new position, but we certainly will miss the work he has done and the engagement he has had at Northern. He has contributed to NMU in so many ways. Our hope is that we will find new ways to stay connected to Thomas Zurbuchen. He is a rising star and certainly an outstanding role model for our students."
Zurbuchen was appointed to the NMU board by Gov. Rick Snyder in 2013 and elected by fellow trustees as vice chair for the 2016 calendar year.
“It’s been my honor and great pleasure to work closely with Thomas as the vice chair,” said Sook Wilkinson, board chair. “He’s been a good friend to NMU and to many people on and off campus. His passion for the university and the U.P. compelled him to share generously his time, expertise and friendship. He leaves behind a huge footprint and impact on the future of NMU. We’ll miss him very much, but I know he’ll find ways to stay connected with us. I wish him and his family all the best.”
A former professor of space science and aerospace engineering at the University of Michigan, Zurbuchen’s experience includes research in solar and heliospheric physics, experimental space research, space systems, and innovation and entrepreneurship. He also was founding director of the Center for Entrepreneurship in the College of Engineering at Michigan.
In his resignation letter to the governor, Zurbuchen wrote, “Serving as an NMU trustee has been a highly rewarding experience for me. Not only do I consider my service to be important to the university itself, and the citizens in the State of Michigan, I also fell in love with this spectacular part of our ‘Pure Michigan’ state. Equally importantly, I made friends for life on our board, in the NMU community and many ‘Yoopers’ in and around Marquette. I will try to find ways to continue to add value to NMU and its community, as I am deeply convinced of its important role in the U.P. and beyond.”
Zurbuchen earned his master’s and doctorate in physics from the University of Bern in Switzerland. His honors include the National Science and Technology Council Presidential Early Career for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) Award in 2004, a NASA Group Achievement Award for the agency’s Ulysses mission in 2006, and the Swiss National Science Foundation’s Young Researcher Award in 1996-97.
“It’s absolutely thrilling to be embarking on this journey,” Zurbuchen said in a NASA press release. “Today, NASA is leading efforts to answer a host of important questions for humanity: Where do we come from? How did life originate? How are Earth's environments changing? There has never been a more pivotal time to solve these mysteries, and I'm looking forward to the charge."
Gov. Snyder will appoint a new trustee to serve out the remainder of Zurbuchen’s term.