Jim Rinaldi Pic
James Rinaldi
UNF Degree: B.A. '77
Employment: Chief Information Officer, Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Rinaldi likes solving mysteries including those in space

 Jim Rinaldi likes mysteries and he plays a role in solving those mysteries at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

Rinaldi is chief information officer at JPL, which is part of the California Institute of Technology but does extensive work for NASA in managing science missions. JPL is responsible for more than 20 spacecraft conducting active missions in the universe. They are all part of NASA's Vision for Space Exploration program.


The most recent mystery Rinaldi played a role in solving is whether water ice exists on Mars. The Phoenix Mars Lander was used to scrape a sample of Martian soil into the spacecraft's wet chemistry lab. The analysis of this soil sample and others will help researchers determine whether ice beneath the soil ever has melted and whether the soil has other qualities favorable for life.


Rinaldi, who has been at JPL since 2005, said he enjoys the opportunity to return to the academic field. "One of the things I learned at UNF was that I really liked the academic environment."


Rinaldi recently left the Food and Drug Administration in Washington, where he was also the chief information officer and was instrumental in implementing some of the sweeping changes set forth in the Bioterrorism Act of 2002 passed by Congress in the wake of 9/11.


At the FDA, for example, the agency was charged with developing new protections for the nation's food and drug supplies. Rinaldi and his team developed a user-friendly electronic registration system which provided 24/7 access. By the time he left the agency, more than 240,000 foreign and domestic food facilities had registered to allow timely notification in the event of any deliberate or accidental food contamination.


JPL and the FDA are only the latest in a series of technology positions Rinaldi has held in his career. He was chief of information technology services at the IRS and spent 16 years at the Marriott Corp., where as senior vice president of IT operations, he was responsible for designing, building and operating the company's technology infrastructure in more than 2,000 locations around the world. He has been in management since 1985 and admits he is proudest of colleagues who have gone on to become CIOs at other businesses and organizations.


Rinaldi said his career was sparked by an interest in math and science ignited at UNF. "Once I started going there I just fell in love with the it. It was the right place for me. Class sizes were not huge and I could really get to know my professors." Specifically he praised Drs. Yap Chua, Charles Winton and Leonard Lipkin for their guidance and encouragement. "I don't think I will ever forget them."


Before coming to UNF, the Alabama native had attended another public university in Florida but said he quickly tired of auditorium-sized classes. "The whole experience at UNF was so different from the school I attended before. UNF was very influential in how I grew up."

In some ways JPL and UNF are similar, Rinaldi said, because each maintains an atmosphere conducive to learning. "There's a lot of talent at both places. Being affiliated with a university again is wonderful."