Lucky 13: Thirteen questions for the 13th president of UND

Incoming president Andrew Armacost talks college baseball, ‘Uncle Andy’ and juggling

Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

On Dec. 3, Andrew Armacost was selected to become the 13th permanent president of the University of North Dakota.

Almost immediately after the announcement, media requests began to roll in. Everyone wanted to know more about the retired brigadier general and former dean of faculty at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

So did UND Today. Hence, last Wednesday we asked the incoming president 13 questions. Here are the 13th president’s answers.

UND Today: We are reaching you a day after being named UND’s 13th president. How are you feeling? Has the news sunk in already? 

Kathy and I are absolutely thrilled. I’m still in a bit of a fog from the emotions of Tuesday. I’ve spent the last 24 hours responding to many persons wishing me well. This weekend, when I have a bit of time to sit and think, I expect for things to really sink in.

Who was the first person you told that you got the position? How did that person react?

The first person I called was Kathy, and she was excited and very proud.  It was a short call, as I was being whisked around for press conferences, photo ops, and meetings.  Interestingly, everyone I saw in the EERC immediately following the announcement heard the news from the live stream, so the news traveled very quickly across campus.

Tell us more about your childhood – what type of a kid were you? As a kid, what did you want to be?

As a child, I was quiet and inquisitive, always trying to figure out how things worked. And I was also strong in sports and music.  At a very early age, I wanted to be an ice cream man or garbage man — it looked like fun, and they would always wave to the kids. That ambition later changed to becoming a professional baseball player.

You played baseball at Northwestern for three months. Why such a short collegiate baseball career? 

I did play for Northwestern.  I had been a very strong player in high school on a great team (Wisconsin State Champs my senior year in 1985). Around the middle of my senior season, I damaged my arm and lost a bit of velocity on my fastball. At Northwestern, the soreness persisted. One of my teammates was senior Joe Girardi, who later had a long professional baseball career as catcher and manager. I credit Joe with my short-lived career — when he’d throw it back to the mound faster than I could pitch, I knew it was time to focus squarely on school!

At the U.S. Air Force Academy, you got the nickname “Uncle Andy.” Do you remember the first time you were called Uncle Andy and how you reacted? 

I heard about it from a colleague during my fourth year as Dean of the Faculty. My immediate reaction was, “Thank goodness it wasn’t something awful!” As I thought about it, I felt the moniker meant I was connecting with the cadets (students) in an important way, and that I had earned their respect.

What is your impression of the Air Force base in Grand Forks? Have you worked with base personnel in any capacity throughout your career? As president of UND and given your background, how do you plan to further strengthen the University’s relationship with the base? 

Grand Forks Air Force Base has an incredible mission that has evolved over time, now focusing on unmanned reconnaissance.  I have had many colleagues who have been stationed at Grand Forks AFB, and they absolutely loved it. What struck them most was the incredible sense of community here in Grand Forks. Going forward, there are great opportunities to connect UND, Grand Forks AFB, and the Grand Sky public-private partnership in developing autonomous systems.

What is the best advice you have ever been given?

Work hard. Don’t rush to judgment. Remember why universities exist.  – Largely from Mom & Dad

What is your favorite book? What about a favorite movie? 

I love the book “Angela’s Ashes” by Frank McCourt, which won a Pulitzer Prize back in the 1980s. It’s about a boy and his struggles growing up in the United States and in Ireland. My favorite movies are “Forrest Gump,” “Breaking Away,” and “Rudy.” Kathy’s early career saw her working for HBO, so film has been part of our lives since our early days together.

What are your hobbies? What do you like to do to unwind? 

I’m a sports lover, both playing and watching. In addition, I have several dormant hobbies that I hope will come alive again soon, including playing the cello and bass guitar. When our daughters were in middle and high school, many of my hobbies centered around their lives and their love of the performing arts. Kathy and I spent much time at the dance studio and high school theatre as volunteers. These days, one of our favorite ways to unwind is for Kathy and me to see a good movie.

What are you most looking forward to, community wise, when it comes to moving to Grand Forks?

Leading such a wonderful university is the chance of a lifetime. But what makes UND even more special is the great community of Grand Forks.  We look forward to making friendships with people in the community and to be an active part of the goings-on.

What is one thing (that you are comfortable sharing) that most people don’t know about you? 

I was a juggler! Yes, like a clown, but without the makeup.  In fact, I might even qualify as a professional juggler, as my friends and I would be paid for performing at parties and community events in Milwaukee.

A lot of people have asked you about your leadership style, but do you think you have several styles as a brigadier general, a parent, a mentor for students? If yes, how do you switch between them? 

I tend to follow the same principles in each of those roles, and the foundation is to treat others with respect. Each of the roles you mention requires different approaches, but the leadership foundation, for me, is still the same.

First ladies often play important role on campus and in the community. Tell us more about your wife Kathy. When and how did you guys meet?

Kathy is an amazing wife and mother. We met in Boston after graduating from college. I was stationed at Hanscom AFB, outside of Boston, and she would visit her parents, who were also stationed there. A friend convinced me to join a bowling league, and Kathy’s folks were in the same league. I knew them before I met her. Let me just say, my mother-in-law was instrumental in making a match, and Kathy and I married in 1993.