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LOGAN — Addressing supporters at the university she loves, Noelle Cockett promised to build on its legacy.
"Together we will make USU an institution whose future is boundless and bright," she said to cheers.
Cockett was named Wednesday as the 16th president of Utah State University. The Utah State Board of Regents interviewed her and three other finalists before announcing the decision in a live-streamed news conference on campus.
Cockett becomes the first woman to serve as president of USU. She started her service as executive president and provost at the university in 2013. Previously, Cockett was vice president for extension and agriculture for the university from 2006-13.
Cockett also served as dean of USU's College of Agriculture from 2002-13 and was director of the Utah Agriculture Experiment station from 2009-13. She earned master's and doctorate degrees from Oregon State University in animal genetics.
Cockett started at the university as an assistant professor in 1990. At the time, she and her husband thought they would be in Logan for only a few years, but Cockett said she soon found it was where she was meant to be.
"I have developed a love and passion for all that Utah State is, and I have tried in each of my roles to contribute to its growth and success," Cockett said in a speech just moments after her appointment was announced.
Cockett's voice cracked with emotion as she addressed her supporters in the crowd.
"I see so many wonderful, wonderful friends," she said.
Cockett will begin her service as university president early in 2017. She replaces Stan Albrecht, who announced in February he would be retiring. Albrecht was appointed to his post in 2005.
The other finalists after a several-month search were Don Blackketter, chancellor of Montana Tech; Keith Miller, former president of Virginia State University and Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania; and Mark Rudin, vice president for research and economic development for Boise State University.
Dan Campbell, chairman of the board of regents, which oversees the Utah System of Higher Education, lauded Cockett's accomplishments, saying she impressed the university's presidential search committee during her interview Wednesday.
"Through her scholarship and leadership, she has left an impression for good," Campbell said.
He noted Cockett's contributions to streamlining general education at the university and her efforts to expand its reach with long-distance and online students. Campbell also presented the new president and her husband with Aggie shirts as a welcome gift.
Cockett praised the legacy of Albrecht, saying he leaves some "big cowboy boots to fill."
"Our faculty will continue to inspire in the classroom and make significant contributions to the world through their research," she vowed.
Albrecht gave a few remarks before Cockett was named university president, expressing his love of USU.
"It's been an amazing journey, an amazing ride. … Right now I am feeling just a little bit of envy for the person who will be named Utah State University's 16th president," he said.
Cockett will oversee more than 3,000 faculty and staff members and preside over 29,000-plus students.
"Today, I pledge to all in the USU community that as president I will tirelessly devote my skills, experience and energy to keeping this institution true to its land-grant mission, to doing everything possible to increase its success and impact, and ensure that it flourishes and continues its tradition of excellence in the years to come,” she said in a statement posted online Wednesday evening.
The university also said in a statement that Cockett is "known for being a part of the team that successfully sequenced the sheep genome." She worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture for five years as a research geneticist.
Utah Commissioner of Higher Education Dave Buhler also voiced his support and appreciation of Cockett on Wednesday.
“I am confident in President Cockett’s ability to effectively lead Utah State University and that she is the right president to build on the extraordinary accomplishments of President Albrecht over the past decade,” Buhler said in a statement.