ECU Announces New Office, Executive Director

Retired U.S. Navy Capt. Keith Wheeler has been named the inaugural executive director for East Carolina University’s newly created Office of National Security and Industry Initiatives.

Wheeler joins ECU after a national search led by the university’s Division of Research, Economic Development and Engagement.


The Office of National Security and Industry Initiatives combines several REDE programs into one office, helping ECU researchers engage with government and industry entities to advance programs and partnerships that promote the health, education and economic advancement of eastern North Carolinians.

As the office’s executive director, Wheeler will play a critical role in supporting REDE’s mission to actively grow ECU’s research enterprise.

“The office is going to work closely with our research faculty and find avenues that allow them to partner with state and federal government, as well as our industry partners, on topics that they’re passionate about.” Wheeler said. “We’re going to connect ECU’s creative and skilled talent with agencies and industries looking to solve complex challenges. Our researchers can make remarkable impacts in the fields of national security and industry development; we just have to help bridge the gap and find opportunities for them to flourish.”

Wheeler said the office title includes national security because of its all-encompassing nature.

“Especially in today’s world, our goal to is to show that significant contributions to national security may come in many forms, not solely through military means,” Wheeler said. “Other elements might include economic, social, energy, cyber, medical, infrastructure, policy, supply chain, logistics or communications.”

Additionally, Wheeler said that while ECU’s research impact with eastern North Carolina industries has grown over the last several years, the office won’t be content to maintain the status quo.

“We understand some immediate opportunity connections with our research community are required, but we will constantly work on big and bold ideas to challenge our community, broaden our research capabilities and expand our capacity,” he said. “Through our growth, we want to create a demand signal from industry that points to ECU as the place they should engage to help them grow, discover new efficiencies, tap into our talent base, and access unique and innovative resources.”

The Manteo native has held numerous leadership positions in the Navy, including commanding officer of U.S.S. McInerney, where he led the Navy’s first at-sea autonomous flight tests of the Fire Scout unmanned aerial vehicle, as well as a daring night capture of a self-propelled semi-submersible drug sub off the coast of Central America.

Other assignments include Chief of Staff at DARPA ­— the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency charged with creating breakthrough technologies and capabilities for national security — the Office of the Secretary of Defense, U.S. Northern Command and U.S. Coast Guard Atlantic Area. Wheeler earned his master’s degree in national security and strategic studies from the U.S. Naval War College and his bachelor’s degree in ocean engineering from the U.S. Naval Academy.

Jay Golden, vice chancellor for REDE, said Wheeler and the office will continue to strengthen ECU’s bond with the military and its connections with industry leaders.

“ECU researchers have made great strides partnering with military and industry leaders,” Golden said. “Keith and the Office of National Security and Industry Initiatives will spur continued research growth, while advancing ECU’s Rural Prosperity Initiative in these focused sectors.”

Morrison, Menke join team

Joining Wheeler in the Office of National Security and Industry Initiatives are Brandon Morrison and Jim Menke.

Morrison, who joined ECU in October 2017, will serve as the director for industry initiatives. Morrison previously served as REDE’s Director of Strategic Initiatives, where he led the development of multi-institutional partnerships and business relations that support ECU’s economic development and research activities.

Morrison received his doctorate and master’s degrees in earth and ocean sciences and environmental management, respectively, from Duke University. Before joining ECU, Morrison managed global sustainability for the world’s largest developer and operator of integrated resorts.

Menke will take over as the office’s director of national security initiatives. The 30-year retired Navy Master Chief joined ECU in 2012 as the military research liaison and project manager for Operation Reentry North Carolina. In this new position, Menke continues to facilitate educational and research partnerships between ECU, the Department of Defense and other national security agencies.

Before joining ECU, Menke served on the staff of the Navy Surgeon General at the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery Washington, D.C. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in health sciences from Trident University.

For more information about the Office of National Security and Industry Initiatives, contact Wheeler at