After a nationwide search, three finalists for the next president of Utah State University were announced Monday.

The finalists are former University of Southern Mississippi President Rodney D. Bennett; University of Arizona Senior Vice President for Research & Innovation Elizabeth “Betsy” R. Cantwell; and Vice President for USU Extension and dean of the College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences Kenneth “Ken” L. White.

On-campus visits and interviews are scheduled in mid-May, and the new president is expected to be named May 19, following closed-door interviews with the Utah State Board of Education, the governing body of the state’s public colleges and universities.

The next president of USU will succeed President Noelle Cockett, who was appointed the university’s 16th president in 2017, and is the first woman to lead the university. She announced in November 2022 that she would be stepping down in July 2023.

Cockett is considered an international expert in sheep genomics research. Prior to being selected president, Cockett was executive vice president and provost of the university.

Here’s more information about the finalists:

  • Rodney D. Bennett served nearly 10 years as president of the University of Southern Mississippi, a comprehensive public research institution with more than 14,000 students with campuses in Hattiesburg and Long Beach. He stepped down from the post in 2022.

Bennett was the first African American president of the predominantly white higher education institution in Mississippi.

Under Bennett’s leadership, USM achieved Research 1 status; reached significant fundraising milestones; and invested in new faculty positions, diversity and inclusion initiatives, student success programming, and nearly $300 million in capital improvements, according to a press release from the Utah Board of Higher Education press release.

Bennett earned a bachelor of science in mass communication, a master of education and education specialist degrees from Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro. He earned his doctorate in educational administration from Tennessee State University in Nashville.

  • Elizabeth “Betsy” R. 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, Cantwell 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. Prior to ASU, Cantwell served at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory as director for economic development and director for engineering mission Strategy as well as serving at the Oak Ridge and 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.

  • Kenneth “Ken” L. White, is also director of the Utah State’s Utah Agricultural Experiment Station and former head of USU’s Department of Animal, Dairy and Veterinary Sciences, where he has been a faculty member since 1991.

He is among the leaders responsible for establishing USU’s School of Veterinary Medicine and significant initiatives on water, public lands, food security and public health.

White has generated over $17.3 million in extramural funding while at USU to support research in animal reproduction and embryonic development. He has published more than 100 peer-reviewed scientific articles and led the nuclear transfer team that produced the world’s first cloned equines, three identical mule foals.

Prior to joining USU, White was a member of the faculty in the Department of Animal Science at Louisiana State University.

He earned a bachelor of science in animal science at Brigham Young University and both of his graduate degrees from the University of California, Davis, a master’s degree in animal science and a doctorate in physiology.

USU President Noelle Cockett is stepping down

The finalists will be on USU’s Logan campus on May 17 to meet with groups representing faculty, staff, students, trustees, statewide campuses, extension and administration. Each finalist will participate in a public meeting on the afternoon of May 17, where attendees from USU’s community and the general public will have the opportunity to ask questions. For more information visit

On May 19, the Utah Board of Higher Education will interview the finalists in a closed session on the Logan campus and possibly conduct a public meeting later that day to select the president or meet at another time to be announced at a later date.