In the first episode of UND’s Presidential Podcast for the Spring 2020 semester, Interim President Joshua Wynne interviews his first-ever guest, Incoming President Andy Armacost. The two chat about Armacost’s preferred term of address (hint: it’s not “Brigadier General,” nor is it “Dr. Armacost”), his aspirations of becoming a late night talk show host, the prospect of becoming a North Dakotan and much more.
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Prefer to read it instead? Here is the full transcript, which has been slightly edited for clarity:
Joshua Wynne: Hello again! I’m Dr. Joshua Wynne, interim president of the University of North Dakota, and proud to be dean of your School of Medicine and Health Sciences. I’d like to welcome you to the first UND Presidential Podcast of the 2020 spring semester.
Last September, we launched this special series of podcasts as another way for the campus community and beyond to hear important and exciting information about our great university straight from the president’s mouth, so to speak. As always, I want to thank you for your time and your listenership, and for welcoming me into your lives from time to time for these important updates.
Five months and nine episodes later, we’re going strong, and we have no intention of letting up. That isn’t to say, however, that there won’t be future changes to how we put these recordings together and deliver them to you as my time as interim president winds down, and I hand over the UND torch to our incoming president, Dr. Andy Armacost.
Speaking of Dr. Armacost, it’s my great pleasure to welcome him as our first-ever guest on UND presidential podcast. President Armacost, thanks for joining us today!
Andy Armacost: The pleasure is mine, President Wynne. This is a real honor to be the first guest on your podcast. I’m excited to be here.
Wynne: First off, you know how it is: people want to know how you’d like to be addressed. What do you tell folks? Are you Andrew, Andy, Dr. Armacost? Does it depend on the setting? How should we refer to you?
Armacost: It’s a great question. I typically like to go with what my mom calls me, which is Andy, and this is a moniker I respond well to. And of course, there are times and ceremonial occasions at the university where I’m sure I’ll be introduced as Dr. Armacost or President Armacost.
But coming out of 30 years in the Air Force where everybody goes by titles, it’s nice to be relieved of that. And my preference, of course, is simply Andy.
Wynne: Well, then, Andy, you’ve been spending some time on campus lately. And you’ll be back several more times before your official start date on June 1. What have you been up to on your visits? And what brings you here this week?
Armacost: Well, on my two previous visits, it was meetings with members of the campus community; it was just trying to build relationships with the many people who are associated with the University of North Dakota. And this includes members of the community. We had a great function two weeks ago with the Chamber of Commerce, hosting their annual meeting at the Alerus Center and the chance to meet so many people from the local community was a real nice byproduct of that event.
And this week, I’m here to meet with you, of course, to do a podcast. In addition, I’m meeting with a number of vice presidents, deans, local community leaders, state legislators. And then in addition, we have a function with the Economic Development Corporation on Thursday.
And then I’ll make a trip to Minneapolis for the Minnesota Wild bus trip for UND and have a chance to engage with alumni there.
So, it’s really trying to build relationships with so many members of the great UND community.
Wynne: So, I mentioned earlier that you’re the first-ever guest on our roughly five-month-old presidential podcast. What’s your take on podcasts in general, and their surge in popularity?
Armacost: I’m amazed at the number of podcasts that are out there. My daughters, one of whom is a recent college grad and the other being a senior in college, often say, “Dad, you have to check out this podcast.” And it’s a great way to continue the sense of lifelong learning that we hope our students graduate with, whether they’re undergrads or graduate students.
There are so many opportunities through podcasts to learn something that you didn’t know before you hit the play button.
So they’re a great opportunity. And again, I’m honored to be your first guest on the Josh Wynne podcast.
Wynne: Well, in fact, we’re the ones who are honored to have you on. But after June 1, this podcast becomes yours. Have you any thoughts on what you might want to do with it or things you’d like to try out?
Armacost: Well, seeing I’m the first guest, I would love to take an approach of bringing guests on frequently, and interviewing people who have some important contribution to the University of North Dakota, or are doing something for the lives of our students. And so this is a great opportunity.
I think you’ve prototyped a fabulous format, and I would love to continue it. Perhaps we even get into video formats, and then later, perhaps even a late-night talk show … I’m kidding about that!
Wynne: OK! (Laughs) I wasn’t quite sure how to react to that. Do you have any favorite podcasts of your own?
Armacost: I can’t really point to one, but as I mentioned, my daughters always give me some great suggestions — “Dad, you have to listen to this one.” And I recall some about history, some good science ones that talk about unexpected phenomena.
So as I said earlier, the chance to learn something new that you didn’t know going into it is just a tremendous opportunity. All of them are really good.
Wynne: As you know, as dean of the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, I do a nearly weekly column in our “For Your Health” publication that goes out via e-news — via the Internet.
Armacost: It’s a great publication, by the way.
Wynne: Thank you. And it’s a way of connecting faculty, students and the community. But in that column, I’ve done what you’ve suggested on occasion in having other faculty members actually write the column. But it may say something about my generation that we used an electronic news format, and now we’ve gotten into the newer generation doing a podcast.
So, good for us, we can change with the times. (Laughs)
Armacost: That’s wonderful.
Wynne: So, shifting gears, you’ve been hearing from and meeting a lot of new people since your candidacy for UND president was announced. What do you find is the biggest misconception that people may have about you?
Armacost: I think naturally, when you come from a military background, people will assume the Hollywood version of a military general, that a person will come in and order others around and really have a top-down approach to leadership, and operate by commanding and ordering people.
And I think and hope that I dispel those misconceptions immediately when I meet people. They’ll find that I’m all about relationships, about building a sense of cooperation and trust. And then furthermore, just really understanding how each and every person contributes to the important mission of the University of North Dakota.
That’s my primary goal in terms of these visits — that relationship building. I think when people see me and speak with me and hear what I have to say, and I hear what they have to say, they’ll realize that that Hollywood myth is not in play here.
Wynne: I can attest to what you’re saying. I spent much less time in the military than you did. I spent two years in the U.S. Army in the Medical Corps as a doctor, and that experience dispelled my misconception of exactly what you said — that it was all top-down.
Rather, what I saw, it was really about team building and working together rather than ordering things done in a certain sequence. So from personal experience, I can attest to that.
On the other hand, I left the service as only a major, not a brigadier general. But my experience was quite positive along the lines that you’ve outlined.
Armacost: I don’t know if your listeners actually knew that about you!
Wynne: Well, I was stationed in the Republic of Korea for two years, and I found it a really educational experience. I did not come from a family with a lot of military experience; my father served in World War II, but other than that, there really hadn’t been a heritage of military service.
But I found it illuminating in that it dispelled several of my misconceptions about the military, the way it works, and especially the top-down aspect that I had presumed.
Of course, for an Army and Air Force to work, it’s important that there’s a chain of command. But the way it works operationally is much more built on teamwork. So it was good seeing it first-hand.
Armacost: It’s much more subtle than just ordering people to do things. And I’ll be eager to see you out doing push-ups and sit-ups with the Army ROTC cadets sometime soon.
Wynne: Let’s not get too carried away about that. (Laughter) But no, I’m very proud of my military service, relatively brief as it was, and I’m a great supporter.
And on the flip side of this question that we’ve been talking about — misconceptions: since you’ve been able to learn more about us in the past few weeks, what has surprised you about UND and/or Grand Forks, especially on the positive side?
Armacost: The more I learn about UND, the more I understand how much I still need to learn — that behind every door, there’s something new and exciting going on that I had no idea about.
And I would suspect that even at the end of my presidency, there will still be things about the University that I don’t know about and surprises happening — good surprises happening — at every turn.
I think with regard to UND, what really has surprised me is the sheer number of people who have given their entire careers to this university. I’ve met people who have been here for 35 and 40 years, and they’ve made UND their life, whether they’re faculty members, staff members, hopefully we have no students here for that long. (Laughter) The fact is, people give their heart and soul to this university, and that level of commitment has been stunning to see.
And then within the city of Grand Forks, I’ve met random people on airplanes, out and about at restaurants, who talked so glowingly about the role of UND and how they view things happening on campus. There’s such a tight connection between the local community and the University and a real care and compassion that the citizens of Grand Forks have for the success of and goings-on at the University.
And so I’m also surprised at how quickly information flows through this community as well. I’ll have conversations with one person, and then I’ll hear from three others who say, “Hey, I heard you spoke with Person X.” That stems from that concern about the health and well-being of the University.
So, I’ve just been completely overwhelmed with the support that exists both on and off campus.
Wynne: Well, we’re getting to know more about you every day. But one of the questions that comes up is, what can you tell us about what we can expect from our incoming First Lady?
Armacost: My wife, Kathy, is a just a wonderful human being who cares deeply about higher ed. She will be an active and positive participant on campus. She has been involved in student life previously; she was a national traveling sorority consultant for her national sorority, advising chapters on programming, on recruitment, on finances. And so she has a love for the development opportunities that exists on campus, not just in fraternity and sorority life, but beyond that as well, and how those make our graduates so much better off.
So you will see her as a very visible partner to me and a very visible member of this campus. I think everybody will be delighted to meet her.
And if you see her, come up and say hello. Don’t treat her as though she’s untouchable and should be kept at a distance. Both she and I want to be active members of this great community.
Wynne: And I have to tell you, Andy, how pleased and thrilled my wife Susan has been in getting to know Kathy. They’ve spent some time together, and Susan is just thrilled that she will be the new First Lady. An endorsement from my wife means a lot to me, so I just wanted to mirror that to you, because she’s absolutely thrilled that both of you are coming, and especially Kathy.
Armacost: Well, let me throw it right back at you: Kathy and I just truly appreciate your warmth and in particular Susan’s warmth as we make this transition. You’ve been an absolutely wonderful.
Wynne: Outside of our professional lives, Susan and I enjoy our travels and spending as much time as possible with our two grown children and our five grandchildren, who are on both coasts. Could you tell us about your family life?
Armacost: Kathy and I have two daughters: a 24-four-year old who graduated from Northwestern University in Chicago and has been in Chicago for the last year-and-a-half, living there and working for an educational technology firm.
And our youngest daughter is senior at the University of Oklahoma. Her name is Audrey, and she’s an acting major and moving to New York City. So kudos to New York for attracting our daughter.
They’re great kids; they’ve both been involved in the performing arts their entire lives. So, much of our family life was centered around life in the theater and in dance competitions and really the art of performance. That’s been an important part of the Armacost family life.
Now that the kids are gone, Kathy and I enjoy life together. Of course, this transition is first and foremost in our minds, but we hope to get in some good Colorado skiing before we make the journey to the land of no hills.
Wynne: Has the prospect of officially becoming a North Dakotan settled in for you yet? As someone born and raised in New York City, but with time spent in Boston, Detroit and Korea, I have my perspective. Susan and I have now been here for over 15 1/2 years, and really do feel part of the culture and the way of life of North Dakota. But what does it mean to you?
Armacost: Interestingly, in the first few weeks of traveling to campus and during the interview process, and in all the interactions I’ve had with North Dakotans before this process even kicked off, I sensed a real strong community and a sense of support for each other. And when Kathy and I were looking for the next phase of our lives, as we left active duty on the Air Force, we were looking for an environment that mirrored what we saw in the Air Force: a sense of commitment, a sense of honor, a sense of integrity. And all of those features, all of those characteristics exist here at UND and also within the city of Grand Forks.
From a human interaction standpoint, it’s just an amazing town, and we’re really looking forward to being a part of it. We are getting used to minus 28; it will require a change in wardrobe, and so we’re preparing diligently for that transition!
But to come to the University of North Dakota to be part of this great community is just really an honor for Kathy and me.
And you know, in the military, we’re conditioned to assimilate into new communities all the time. A typical transition happens every three years for a military officer, so that’s the mindset. I’m not saying that I’m only here for three years, by the way; I don’t want the listeners to think otherwise! This is a long-term commitment for Kathy and me.
But the mindset of wholly immersing yourself into a new community is really the feature that we became conditioned to through our Air Force service. And we’re just thrilled to come in and join the community.
Wynne: Well, all the feedback that I’ve heard on campus and in the community is similarly positive and thrilled that you and Kathy are joining the University of North Dakota and becoming North Dakotans. So, a very strong welcome to both of you.
Well, I’ve been peppering you with questions. Do you have any for me?
Armacost: Any advice on making the transition? How DO you prepare for minus 28?
Wynne: It’s easy to prepare for one of those warm days, you know. You got to be careful on the cold days! (Laughter) No, just kidding. Although, since we’ve been here, I believe the coldest it’s ever been is minus 38. So that’s really cold.
I think you and Kathy, by virtue of your personalities and your approach, are doing all the right things. My most important critic is also my most important supporter, and that’s my wife. And she says great things about what you and Kathy have been doing, and I know will continue to do.
So, very much welcome to both of you, and we really look forward to a wonderful presidency and great things for the University of North Dakota.
Armacost: Wonderful. I do have one question though.
Wynne: Yes, sir.
Armacost: If you’re now going from four jobs down to three — the four being practicing cardiologist, vice president, dean of the medical school and president of the university — what are you going to do with all your free time?
Wynne: (Laughs) That’s going to be a real challenge — what to do with all of that copious free time. But I think we’ll figure something out.
No, seriously, one of the things that we’re really going to be focused on in the vice president and dean’s job is helping the School of Medicine and Health Sciences prepare for an upcoming accreditation visit in 2022. Accreditation of medical schools is a big deal. So, I’m looking forward to continuing the preparations with great enthusiasm.
Armacost: Wonderful. Well, good luck on that high-stakes accreditation visit!
Wynne: Thank you. Well, Andy, with that, we’re going to wrap up this edition of the UND presidential podcast. Thanks so much for joining me today. I think it’s been fun and enlightening for all involved. I wouldn’t mind doing this again with you sometime down the road, possibly when you’re the one doing the hosting, and I can be your guest. What do you say to that?
Armacost: I’d say it sounds like a great idea, although you’ve set a high bar, so I’ll do my best to live up to the expectations.
Wynne: Thank you. That sounds wonderful, Andy. And to our listeners, please join me again next month for another informative edition of the UND presidential podcast. Until then, so long, and
(Both): Go UND!