Elizabeth (Betsy) Cantwell, who began her official tenure as Utah State University’s (USU) 17th President in August, has been taking the time to tour the myriad of USU campuses this November.
On Nov. 16, she made a stop at the Utah State University Eastern (USUE) campus to speak with students, faculty and staff in order to garner a better understanding of the particular needs of the campus. President Cantwell stated that she is trying hard to learn as patient and as fast as she can.
For President Cantwell, accomplishing that means true listening sessions, such as the one hosted at the USUE campus. She began the session and then asked questions before listening and doing her best to absorb the suggestions and comments. The president had visited the Blanding and Moab campuses the day before and this trip was her second visit to Price.
Before finishing her tour, Cantwell also had plans to visit the Vernal campus and the outposts in Tooele, Brigham City and more. She approaches these sessions with the idea that there is a lot to be said and she calls the various campuses a USU system specifically as there are different campuses with different value propositions, sizes, types of students and the communities that they serve.
“We should acknowledge that we are, yes, all one system, but we are not the same thing and we shouldn’t try to be,” said President Cantwell.
One common denominator she learned was that the communities want to be thinking about the future and not the past. There is a desire to be sure that they are valuable and that they are serving their communities in the future.
President Cantwell earned her first degree in psychology and her second degree and doctorate in mechanical engineering. Her first career was working for NASA, building life support systems for the space shuttle and ISS. Her PhD thesis was flown on the space shuttle and Cantwell has a strong sense that what she does for work should be motivated by a sense of mission.
From there, she moved into National Security and worked for the Department of Energy. When her fourth child was interviewing at Arizona State University, Cantwell met the president there and through a series of conservations, he convinced her that the most important mission in the United States today is the mission of public higher education.
“We have to protect it, we have to preserve it, we have to make sure that it has value, that we’re delivering students out in the world who are going to be the next generation of leaders in this incredibly complicated country that we live in right now,” said President Cantwell. “And they have to be the ones that make it work.”
Cantwell stated that they have to accomplish this not only in the traditional sense that universities have been forever committed to academic freedom and freedom of speech, but they also have to really give the students a sense of how to operate in the complicated world.
A full-service system of education is provided at USUE and it seeks, in a unique way, to serve the region as opposed to just bringing it as many students as possible. Cantwell shared that her goal, or vision, is that for any student seeking education anywhere, they are better off in in the USU system than they would be in any other institute.
President Cantwell acknowledged that there is work to do in that respect, but not a large amount. She stated that the Eastern campus has a massive impact, not just in Carbon County, but in all of Utah. In speaking with the students, she gave a message regarding the college’s obligations to them.
“You have such a unique place to experience whatever kind of education you want, so our obligation to ensure that student experience here is augmented, is highlighted, is elevated for you,” Cantwell stated.
In conclusion, Cantwell parted with a message for the community as a whole, “We know we have an obligation to serve this community, and I personally will be coming back here and interacting with the community, both listening and sharing.”