Elizabeth Cantwell chosen as Utah State University's new president

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LOGAN — The Utah Board of Higher Education announced Elizabeth "Betsy" R. Cantwell as Utah State University's new president Friday afternoon after an extensive, nationwide search.

Cantwell will replace previous USU President Noelle Cockett, who stepped down after six years at the university's helm.

"I am so pleased to take everything I've done and bring it here, and really offer it to you as service," Cantwell said. "It is the role of your next president to take you to where you want to go."

Cantwell's background in space science may have helped launch her into the president's chair at a school with a reputation for space technology and research.

Lisa Michele Church, chairwoman of the Utah Board of Higher Education, said that Cantwell stood out among the other candidates due to her "amazing background in research and innovation, which Utah State is really on the cusp of taking off on that — Space Dynamics Lab, the land, air and water."

According to a biography provided by USU, Cantwell served as senior vice president for Research and Innovation at the University of Arizona. Her accomplishments and research have contributed billions to Arizona's state economy through the UA Tech Park project.

Church noted that Cantwell also has extensive administrative experience and understands USU's land grant mission.

"President Cantwell will really be positioned well to get a lot of federal grants. I think she'll be really committed to the research," Church said.

The senior vice president has an $825 million research portfolio, and she's used her reach and research to expand the 1,268-acre UA Tech Park — a park that contributes $1.7 billion to the region. She's also served as a professor of aerospace engineering at Arizona and a professor of practice at Arizona State University's College of Engineering.

And her influence doesn't just stop at Arizona — Cantwell's research and innovation spans the state to 20 academic colleges, 12 university-level centers, and several other research institutions.

Before she served at the University of Arizona, Cantwell changed the research development sphere at Arizona State by serving as vice president of Research Development and CEO of the ASU Research Enterprise, an organization dedicated to translating research. Before that, she worked as a director of the Lawrence Livermore National Lab and as a division leader at the Los Alamos National Lab.

Among other leadership roles, Cantwell has served as a research engineer at the NASA Ames Research Center, a lead engineer at the Environmental Protection Agency, and a program director at NASA headquarters.

Currently, Cantwell is chairwoman of the Space Telescope Science Institute Council and serves on the board of the International Space Station National Laboratory.

Cantwell graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with an MBA in 2003, the University of California, Berkeley, with a doctorate in mechanical engineering in 1992, and the University of Chicago with a Bachelor of Arts in human behavior in 1976.

The candidate may also have been chosen, according to USU Student Body President Abraham Rodriguez, because of her connections with new Utah State Chief of Police Jason Brei, who also worked at the University of Arizona and was an active part of the UA police department.

Rodriguez said that while it may take some time for the student body to get used to a new president, Cantwell will help "bring us to new heights with her extensive background in research, and she does bring a lot of innovative ideas."

Cantwell will face several new challenges in leading the university, one of which will be choosing a new athletics director for the university after John Hartwell, the AD for the past seven years, resigned last fall. Jerry Bovee is serving as the interim athletics director.

The other two finalists for the position were Rodney D. Bennett and Kenneth "Ken" L. White, who were both recommended by the USU presidential search committee. The candidates met with groups on campus Wednesday before being chosen following closed interviews with the Board of Higher Education on Friday.

Bennett, a previous university president with a 10-year tenure at the University of Southern Mississippi, made history at his university by helping USM reach R1 status (meaning the university has "high research activity," making it one out of only 14 in the nation), as well as expanding the university with new diversity and inclusion initiatives, faculty positions, student success programming, and $300 million in capital investments.

Bennett also changed USM's legacy forever by being the first Black man to be appointed as president to the predominately white institution.

White has a significant background with USU, currently serving as vice president of the Utah State University Extension, dean of the College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences, and director of the Utah Agricultural Experiment Station.


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Kris Carpenter is a student at Utah State University in Logan, Utah.


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