AT&T; Corp. executive Richard T. Roca has been named director of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, the seventh head of the facility that dates to World War II.
APL, south of Columbia, is the largest employer in Howard County.
"I come from an organization that prides itself on its reputation, but when I told people around here I was going to be director of APL, the reaction was, 'Wow,' " said the 55-year-old engineer. "Believe me, APL's reputation extends far beyond the Baltimore-Washington corridor."
Roca will start Jan. 1. He replaces Gary L. Smith, who stepped down as director of the laboratory in April and is now deputy director of the CIA for science and technology.
Roca joined AT&T; after graduating from Lehigh University with a degree in mechanical engineering in 1966. While working there, he earned a master's degree and, in 1972, a doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Roca has held a variety of jobs at AT&T; -- several involving contracts with government agencies -- and is vice president of AT&T; Labs in New Jersey, the company's research and development arm.
"I always enjoyed dealing with the government, particularly in service projects," he said. He takes over a laboratory famed for developing the proximity fuse -- a device that detonates a bomb or missile when it senses the target -- in World War II. For decades, the laboratory's only customer was the Navy. While APL has remained primarily involved in defense work, in the post-Cold War era it has had to go further afield for contracts -- to NASA, the departments of Energy and Transportation and a growing number of private companies.
"I am certainly used to working in an environment of drastic change," Roca said.
In a statement, Hopkins President William R. Brody said Roca's background was particularly suitable.
"He comes from an industry that has undergone dramatic restructuring and can ably guide APL through changes in the way that government and other APL research sponsors are doing business," Brody said.
Roca said the opportunity to work in an institution affiliated with a university appealed to him.
"I have always kept my finger in the higher education pie," he said.