After a nationwide search, Elizabeth “Betsy” Cantwell has been selected as the 17th president of Utah State University.

Cantwell’s selection was ratified by unanimous vote of the Utah Board of Higher Education late Friday afternoon after spending most of the day in executive session on USU’s Logan campus interviewing three finalists for the position. The board has sole authority to hire and fire presidents of the state’s public degree-granting universities and colleges and technical colleges.

Cantwell is responsible for an $825 million annual research portfolio and her responsibilities include the 1,268-acre University of Arizona Tech Park. The U.A. Tech Parks contribute $1.7 billion annually to the regional economy.

Earlier, she worked at Arizona State University where she was vice president for research development and CEO of the ASU Research Enterprise, a nonprofit organization dedicated to translating research.

Earlier in her career, Cantwell served at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory as director for economic development and director for engineering mission Strategy as well as working at Tennessee’s Oak Ridge and New Mexico’s Los Alamos national laboratories.

Cantwell earned a master of business administration degree from the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School, a doctorate in mechanical engineering from the University of California, Berkeley, and bachelor degree in human behavior from the University of Chicago.

Elizabeth R. Cantwell applauds after being introduced as the new president of Utah State University on Friday in Logan. | Eli Lucero, Herald Journal

“This woman is extremely qualified and very impressive and you’re going to love her,” said Utah Board of Higher Education Chairwoman Lisa Michele Church.

Cantwell is “a national leader of incredible caliber. I’m so excited to see what happens next,” Church said.

Kent Alder, USU Board of Trustees chairman and co-chairman of the presidential search committee, said in a statement that Cantwell “has excellent leadership experience outside of higher education that completes her skill set. She has been successful in many roles in her career and will continue to do so. Her background in research is very impressive and simply adds to her qualifications.”

Cantwell said she is “enormously grateful to the board for their faith in me. I will do everything in my power to step into a place that has been basically made beautiful by President (Noelle) Cockett and move us all forward into what is truly an incredible future for Utah State University and for the state of Utah.”

On May 17, the finalists met with groups representing faculty, staff, students, trustees, statewide campuses, extension and administration. Later that day, they each participated in public meetings where the candidates introduced themselves to members of the campus community and fielded their questions.

Cantwell and her husband traveled to Logan a couple of days ahead of her scheduled meetings and “we have had the best week,” she said.

She thanked the board for its faith in her. “I will do everything to make good on my capacity to serve that faith,” she said.

Cantwell succeeds Cockett, who has led the Logan-based university and its statewide campuses since 2017. She is the first woman to serve as its president. Cockett announced in November 2022 that she would step down in July 2023.

Cockett is considered an international expert in sheep genomics research. Prior to serving as USU’s president, she was USU’s executive vice president and provost.

“We also want to thank Noelle Cockett for the amazing service that she has given to the university, not only her six years as president, but her incredible decades of service in being a professor and vice president and dean and all the things that she did so well,” said Church.

Church said a 19-member search committee appointed in December “spent months and months and many, many hours in this effort.”

Elizabeth R. Cantwell speaks during a Utah Board of Higher Education meeting after being introduced as the new president of Utah State University on Friday in Logan. | Eli Lucero, Herald Journal
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The other finalists were former University of Southern Mississippi President Rodney D. Bennett and Vice President for USU Extension and dean of the College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences Kenneth “Ken” L. White.

USU is a land-grant, public research university that was founded in 1888. It serves nearly 28,000 students on its main campus in Logan and eight campuses across the state.

Utah State University is a Carnegie-recognized R1 institution. R1 universities are considered at the forefront of research and innovation and receive federal and private funding for their academic research.

USU’s mission “is to be one of the nation’s premier student-centered land-grant and space-grant universities by fostering the principle that academics come first, by cultivating diversity of thought and culture, and by serving the public through learning, discovery and engagement,” according to the university website.