Kirk Kolenbrander came to MIT in 1990 as a faculty member in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, where he developed a research program that studied the unique optical and electronic properties of semiconductor nanoparticle materials. While on the faculty, he received the Everett Moore Baker Award for Outstanding Teaching and the inaugural Arthur C. Smith Award for contributions to undergraduate student life at MIT.

He moved into the Chancellor's Office in 1998, serving as associate dean and then interim Dean for Student Life. He became special assistant to the President and the Chancellor in 2001, helping to craft shared and sustainable solutions for faculty, students, and staff.

In December 2004, he was named senior advisor to MIT's 16th President, Dr. Susan Hockfield. Dr. Kolenbrander became the Vice President for Institute Affairs and Secretary of the MIT Corporation in July 2006; in 2011, his title was changed to Vice President and Secretary of the MIT Corporation. In 2015, his title was changed to Vice President.

Dr. Kolenbrander has a PhD in chemistry from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (1988), and a BA from Central College, Pella, Iowa (1983).

He and his wife, Terri, and their two daughters live in Belmont.