A month after Scott Wyatt stepped down as president of Southern Utah University to lead online education for the Utah System of Higher Education, the university named Mindy Benson as interim president, making her the first woman to hold that title at the Cedar City school.
That moment came full circle Friday, a year later for Benson, as she was appointed as the university’s 17th president after what school officials described as an extensive national search.
"It is a great day to be a part of the T-Bird family and we are welcoming this next chapter in our history," said Jodi Hart-Wilson, chairwoman of the board of trustees at SUU.
The announcement, which was met with a sea of red ovations, came after Benson was recommended to the Utah Board of Higher Education by the SUU presidential search committee.
Benson was chosen over Mablene Krueger and Alan Utter after all three were interviewed during a closed board meeting Friday.
For Benson, the moment was "humbling" and she noted that she is "gratified to be able to serve this place that we love so dearly."
As the hometown candidate, Benson brings extensive experience at the university to her role as president.
"President Benson is an exceptional leader with ties to this great southern Utah and SUU community going back generations," said Jesselie Anderson, Utah System of Higher Education vice chairwoman. "She has proven her commitment to the university, to the success of its faculty, staff and students and I'm sure that her work and experience is what SUU needs to lead it successfully in the coming years."
A Cedar City native, Benson graduated from SUU in 1994 with a bachelor's degree in zoology before receiving her master's degree in professional communication in 2008.
Benson has worked on campus in various roles for nearly 30 years, teaching courses, serving as the vice president of Alumni and Community Relations and, most recently, serving as the university's interim president since last July — becoming the first woman to hold the title of interim president.
"Today, I'm thinking of the women who have touched my life," Benson said. "My sister ... was the first female student body president on this campus. I don't think that either one of us thought that we would have this legacy, yet here we stand."
A release from the university credits Benson with leading "one of the most successful legislative sessions in SUU's recent history."
In addition to her work at SUU, Benson is a professional event consultant and planner with clients throughout the nation. She has experience producing hundreds of high-level productions including concerts, political conventions and gubernatorial and U.S. presidential inaugurations.
After thanking the greater campus community and her family, Benson talked about what she sees for the future of SUU.
"My desire is to serve you and help each and every member of our Thunderbird family have a seat at the table and feel like you are a valued and safe part of our family," Benson said. "Together, we'll create a vision that shapes the next 125 years of the university."
Krueger serves as the vice president of Strategic Planning and Partnerships at Roosevelt University in Chicago and has accumulated over 40 years of higher education experience.
Along with serving as the chief operating officer for the Schaumburg Campus, Krueger also has presidential experience, as she served as Robert Morris University’s president for nearly five years. In her cover letter, Krueger said that she “would use the distinction of being new to the geographic region to reach out to prospective partners and community members to learn of their needs and diagnose complementary opportunities.”
Utter applied to become SUU’s next president after serving as the provost and executive vice chancellor for academic affairs and research for Arkansas State University. While there, he led an international initiative to evaluate all 160 academic degree programs to prioritize, transform or grow high-impact academic programs to optimize recruitment, retention, resource allocation and demand.
Along with his role at Arkansas State University, Utter previously served as provost and vice president for academic affairs at Texas Woman’s University as well as being a professor at Appalachian State University.
“While I would like every student who enters college to graduate, I am passionate about leading a university that is committed to students with the odds stacked against them,” Utter said in his cover letter. “I want to ensure that we as an institution of higher education are providing opportunities and access for all students to succeed independent of race, cultural or socio-economic background.”