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RCC Founder Leaving His Mark

By Jody Record, Campus Journal Editor
December 10, 2008

RCC Director Bill Lenharth's last day after 29 years at UNH is Dec. 23.

When Bill Lenharth got into the business some 29 years ago, computers couldn’t talk to each other. Monitors were as big—and as deep—as televisions. Printers were the size of his desk.

Today, technology has changed radically and expectations have changed right along with it.

“It used to be you had to restart your computer every couple of days; you just accepted it. Now, if you turn it on and it doesn’t work, you’re shocked,” the director of the Research Computing Center says.

And the future? How will computers evolve from here?

“Whatever you can think will probably be possible,” Lenharth says.

He should know. Lenharth has been involved in leading computer science projects—the InterOperability Laboratory (IOL), Project 54-- at UNH since the university bought his consulting and computer support business in 1979.
“They asked me if I wanted to work for the university and I said I’d do it for a couple of years,” Lenharth says. “That was 30 years ago next May.”

And now, those "couple of years" are up; Lenharth is retiring this month. Dec. 23 is his last day. 

When he started at UNH, RCC had three employees. Today there are 12. Initially, RCC focused its efforts on engineering and science needs but now programs have expanded to include Web/database programming and design.

“It’s everything from high-level research all the way down to programming,” Lenharth says. “A chunk of funding always goes to student jobs. Most of the employees we have now were students. I followed the old adage ‘try before you buy’ and I always hired employees smarter than I am.”

Students are a critical component of RCC’s InterOperability Laboratory, which tests networking and data communications products while preparing UNH students for a career in the industry.

It started when Lenharth’s group at RCC began testing products for Prime Computers and Cabletron in the late 1980s. The IOL became a separate entity in 1995.

“It really came up by its bootstraps, on a shoestring. Now it’s a $5 million a year company that employs more than a hundred students,” Lenharth says.

In 1997, Lenharth wrote a one-page proposal for the state police with ideas on how their patrol car communication could be more efficient. Two years later Project 54, a voice-operated remote control system for patrol cars was developed at UNH.

The Project 54 technology is now being used in more than 200 police departments across the country.

So, after being involved in such exciting projects during his 29-year career at UNH, won’t he be bored not working? Not a chance, Lenharth says. He has plans to spend more time pursing two of his passions: trains and antique cars. Plus, he’ll be coming back to teach.

For now, though, Lenharth is getting set to enjoy himself.

“People always say ‘what are you going to do when you retire?’ I say ‘in what order?”’Lenharth says.

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