Students might not care for getting up early, but when you’re a university president, it comes with the territory.
That was certainly true on Thursday for University of Utah President Ruth Watkins, who visited Utah State University as part of her “Ruth 66 University for Utah Tour.” Watkins, along with a group of UofU officials, met with USU President Noelle Cockett and officials from her school to share ideas.
“We have much in common and we have such fabulous opportunities to work together,” Watkins said in an interview.
USU and UofU are similar in a few notable ways. They are the only two research schools in the state, share a space-grant mission — charged with disseminating research on outer-space — and house the USTAR initiative.
But they’re also different. USU is the state’s land-grant school with an Extension mission as well. The UofU, on the other hand, considered the state’s “flagship” public university, includes medical and law schools.
“Certainly Utah State, as our research university partner, is a very valued colleague in the effort to raise higher education in the state and to also to generate and disseminate knowledge,” Watkins said.
She believes the partnership between the two schools is good for the state and “raises us all.”
UofU and USU officials are both interested in making sure students at those schools complete their degrees, she said.
“What I have become fond of saying is access to college without completion is incomplete — it’s a hollow promise,” Watkins said. “Both of our institutions are working on what are our best practices in terms of data, analytics and programs that really help students come to college, stay in college through the completion of their degree.”
Another way the UofU and USU can work together is securing funding, Watkins said. As research institutions, both are reliant on numerous funding sources.
“There are a number of areas where our two universities can work together to be more effective in securing resources,” Watkins said.
She noted how UofU has a health sciences apparatus and USU has a School of Veterinary Medicine.
“There is a concept of kind of one medicine — that research and discovery with animals … and medical schools, there’s a lot of gained knowledge there,” Watkins said.
Neil Abercrombie, vice president of government relations at USU, attended the meeting with Watkins on Thursday and was impressed.
“I am excited to work with President Watkins at the U. She, like President Cockett, brings extensive experience and a deep academic background as a former dean and provost to the position of president,” Abercrombie wrote in an email to the newspaper. “I think over the next few years we will … collaborate in areas that will improve student wellness, enhance critical research, and lead economic development opportunities for the state of Utah.”
Watkins’ Ruth 66 tour echoed a road trip her predecessor, David Pershing, embarked on when he first became UofU president in 2012.
The purpose of Watkin’s trip was twofold, she said. One was for UofU officials to talk to higher education colleagues so they can find “what we can do together.” Another goal of the trip was to visit some of the major employers of the region who have hired UofU graduates and get some feedback from them.
“How those students are doing, how well-prepared they are, how we can do better as a university,” Watkins said. “We’re receiving very good information about the needs of employers and how we as the University of Utah — and the university for Utah — can be that successful university for Utah.”
Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, was one of a few local dignitaries who had lunch with Watkins during her visit.
“We appreciate the education we got,” he said. “It was just a chance for us to visit with her about our views of the University of Utah and what it could do. Of course, we talked about working closer with Utah State and our alumni.”
Watkins and Cockett share a few things in common as university presidents, too. They’re both leaders of research universities, the first women to lead their institutions — and the 16th presidents of each.
“I think I should ask President Cockett for advice — she’s got a head start on me,” Watkins said of Cockett, who became president last year. “We both have the privilege of leading great institutions that are healthy, vibrant, successful … and I know President Cockett feels the same way.”