‘Sprinting with purpose’

In his initial statements to the media and State Board, UND Incoming President Andrew Armacost expresses excitement for his new role

On Tuesday, Dec. 3, Andrew Armacost was selected by the State Board of Higher Education as the 13th President of the University of North Dakota. Armacost took time to address the media following Tuesday’s selection. Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

 

Editor’s note: The following are transcripts of some of the initial statements that Andrew Armacost made to the media and to the State Board of Higher Education on Dec. 3, 2019, just after learning that he’d been selected as the next president of the University of North Dakota. All transcripts have been edited for clarity and length.

 

Incoming President Andrew Armacost’s initial statement to the State Board of Higher Education:

I am completely and utterly overwhelmed.

Earlier today, I was walking along and wondering what my future would be like at the University of North Dakota. And as we were just hustling back from meeting with the students, I found myself almost sprinting – sprinting with purpose, sprinting with excitement, sprinting knowing that I have this incredible opportunity to lead this fine University for many years to come.

And my wife, Kathy, and I are thrilled to become members of this community, both at the University and in the city of Grand Forks; and with the opportunity to lead an amazing research program, to lead an amazing academic program, to lead an institution that really develops students as future leaders. That’s something that I know and have near and dear to my heart, something I will cherish forever.

I appreciate, Mr. Chairman, your support; I thank the entire board for its support. Chancellor Hagerott, thank you so much for what you’ve done in terms of our many conversations today, and at our first chance meeting at a cyber conference many, many months ago.

The support that this board has provided, the seriousness with which you have taken this process – it can’t be overstated. So thank you for placing trust and confidence in me as the new president of the University of North Dakota.

And to all others, thanks for being here. It’s a delight for me to take the reins and begin the process of making our trip from Colorado to Grand Forks as soon as we can, and to really get into action.

Furthermore, I thank Interim President Josh Wynne for his leadership of this institution. He stepped up in a major way. This is what leaders do when they’re asked to step up and take an important role. He has done that. I know he’s been a real breath of fresh air for the university, and he’s done amazing work.

I look forward to following in the footsteps of many great leaders and really making a difference in the lives of people here in Grand Forks. So, thank you.

 

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Immediately following the board’s decision, Armacost delivered a statement to the board’s members and those gathered. Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

Transcript of the press conference held by Incoming President Andrew Armacost, Dec. 3, 2019.

Armacost: This is a distinct honor for me. My voice is a little worn out from a lot of conversations over the last day. But I’m so proud to be able to be called the president of the University of North Dakota.

I’ve had the chance over the last two weeks to participate in many meetings with constituencies here at the University – students, faculty, staff, members of the Grand Forks community. And what I’ve seen in them is love of the University and a love of the state of North Dakota. And I’m honored to be able to take the helm of the University, and to really continue to propel it in a direction that will take the University far.

Growth in research, growth in educational programs, growth in a sense of community: these are all factors that we’ll focus on immediately when I step on campus.

In addition, I’d like to thank people who made this process possible. So you met Nick Hacker, who chairs the State Board of Higher Education, which chose me for this role. I appreciate his contributions and his insights, and his tough questions today as well.

And then the chairs of the Search Committee. Dr. Casey Ryan and Dean Denny Elbert did an amazing job of assembling a great team that screened many candidates and ended up whittling it down to six and finally to three and now to one.

In that work, they showed their insight and their great passion for the University of North Dakota. And all the members of that committee as well, the time and effort that they spent show their deep commitment to what the University of North Dakota really has to offer.

So it’s my pleasure to be a member of this community, to join the city of Grand Forks. And Kathy and I will make the journey to Grand Forks from Colorado Springs some point in the near future, and we’re eager to get started and eager to get the important work of this University underway. We’re building on a proud legacy of many great leaders, great educators, great students who have passed through the doors of the University. I’m proud to be part of it, and to be a member of the Fighting Hawks.

Q. What is your starting date?

Armacost: My starting date is June 1, 2020, or perhaps earlier.

Q. Can you walk us through what your first year is going to look like, in terms of building on that community and UAS research?

Armacost: So this is a great question. I can guarantee you that it’s going to be a lot of time and effort spent with people individually and in groups to understand the issues they’ve faced, and how they think this University can grow and become even better. And this will consume a lot of time.

And the stakeholders – I’m talking about community members, I’m talking about our students, faculty, staff, donors, alumni, of course, the state Legislature and the Board of Higher Education – these are all key relationships that have to be built from the very start of the tenure of a president. It can’t wait for the two-year legislative cycle to kick in; those relationships have to begin immediately.

In addition to those constituencies, you bring up the work on Unmanned Aerial Systems and more generally, the Grand Challenges that we’ve set down as a University — the five Grand Challenges of human health, energy and sustainability, rural health, unmanned systems, and Big Data. My goal will be to focus and make sure that the resources that we need to operate those programs are found, that they’re in good shape, that the research portfolio that we have is well funded, and that we’re looking for opportunities to expand those programs, through partnerships with other universities, with industry, and with professional societies as well.

It’s a huge growth area. I think the state of North Dakota can benefit tremendously by growth in these areas and the potential commercialization and tech transfer of the work that we accomplish.

Q: Given your background, what do you see is the relationship between UND and the base?

Armacost: Regarding Grand Forks Air Force Base, I think there are great partnerships – with the active duty Air Force units and seeing how technologies that are created here can support the Air Force, as well as with the Grand Sky facility, which is hosted at the base as a public/private partnership.

There is an extraordinary opportunity with the infusing of funds coming from federal government to support work in unmanned systems. I think UND has to be central to all of these efforts.

Q. How will you give students a voice on campus? Will you be working on getting input from them?

Armacost: I first have to understand the structures by which students currently participate. I know from the Student Forum when I was here two weeks ago, that there are many students who actively engage in the matters of this University; otherwise, they wouldn’t have been there to interview all of the candidates. And so, understanding how Student Government is structured and what student groups exist – there is a large number of student groups; I think the number is probably over 200 – and to create “touch points” with each of those groups to let them know how I and the other senior leaders of this institution can support them.

So my presence – my personal presence with those groups and with individual students has to begin on Day One.

Q. What will your starting salary be?

Armacost: It’s part of the contract, and I think that will be made available at some later point. But it’s consistent with what’s been legislatively approved.

Q. What does this mean for you and your family, being able to take this next step?

Armacost: Well, having been in the Air Force for 30 years, 20 of which were at the Air Force Academy, we’ve kind of reversed the model. Most Air Force officers, including myself, are conditioned to take adventures wherever they arise, wherever the Air Force asks them to go. And when this opportunity to be the president of the University of North Dakota first arose, when I first learned about it, I said, This is an amazing institution, with dedicated students and dedicated faculty members. Being involved in it would be consistent with how I’ve spent my life in service to the nation as an Air Force officer.

And so, the appeal of the position was great. So my wife and I said, Let’s head north; let’s see how we can contribute as a family.

It’s an exciting time for both of us, and we’re really going to relish this opportunity.

Q. How long do you envision yourself staying at UND?

Armacost: That’s a great question that came up a lot during the interview. I can’t pick a number of years; but know that my commitment is a long-term commitment. I do not view this as a stepping stone to other opportunities, but rather, I will live in the moment of leading this great institution and not looking forward to other opportunities.

So, I can’t pick a number. But know that my commitment is true. It’s from the heart, and it’s a long-term commitment on the part me and my wife.

Q. The chancellor frequently talks about cybersecurity and the opportunity that could arise for an institution such as UND in cybersecurity research. And I noticed from one of your biographies that you have some experience with coaching cybersecurity teams. So I wonder if you would reflect on that possibility for us.

Armacost: The beauty of cyber as a discipline is it exists everywhere, and there are opportunities to create great programs on any campus. And my experience constructing and leading cyber programs – I have to give all the credit to our Computer and Cyber Sciences Department back at the Air Force Academy. But my role was in making sure we have the resources, both the government funding and also private donor funding to make sure we can operate world-class cyber teams. In fact, the cyber team at the academy won the NSA’s annual cyber challenge last year in a dominating way because we gave them the resources they needed to be successful.

In addition, we identified the need for funding for a cyber innovation center. Part of offering good programs is making sure you have the facilities and the resources to operate those. And so we engaged in a public/private partnership to construct the first-ever Center for Cyber Innovation with the Air Force Academy, to the tune of about $60 million, half public and half private.

The goal there was, again, to provide a place for the resources the students and faculty would need to deliver these highly successful cyber programs. I envision the same type of opportunity here at UND to invest in and develop great capability with respect to cyber, with respect to Big Data, and also with respect to autonomous systems.

Q. How do you envision balancing that aspect with the liberal arts?

Armacost: There’s definitely an opportunity to find balance, and more importantly, to find interplay between these disciplines. There’s a great book called “The Innovators” by Walter Isaacson, which talks about the key contributions to the tech industry, to the IT and computing industry. And those contributions were made by people who were first humanities majors and artists, and later science and technology people or vice versa. But the key was they were living at the intersection of the arts and humanities and the technical disciplines. And that’s where the creativity really arose.

And I see the same type of opportunity at the University of North Dakota – to look at our liberal arts programs, our arts and humanities programs and figure out where the synergies are with our tech-focused programs, to really generate that sense of creativity, innovation and inspiration.

And so, the University has a great goal. The first goal in the Strategic Plan is to focus on the liberal arts. I think we need to maintain that focus – not in spite of technology, but because of technology. I think the presence of technology in more aspects of our lives demands a better understanding of what it means to be human, and the humanities provides exactly that perspective.

 

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Armacost remarked that his past experiences taught him the value of ‘taking care of your people.’ At UND, he plans to start his tenure by demonstrating his desire to be a positive force on campus. Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

Transcript of Incoming President Armacost’s answers to further questions from the media – Dec. 3, 2019

Q: What will be your approach to change on campus, and do you have any of those changes in mind?

Armacost: I think there’s a prudent approach we should take, and that is, first get a sense of what the campus really is like. Because what has been presented to me over the last two or three months, and in particular over the last two weeks of being here on campus, may or may not represent the true campus.

I think the most important thing a new president should do is step in and really understand what the challenges are first, and then make some proposed changes. I think that fortunately, the campus came together very nicely as it built the One UND Strategic Plan, which I think captures a firm direction for the institution. I think that provides a great starting point for the changes that I would like to implement, following directly in line with the strategic plan, and then identifying other opportunities in particular areas where the strategic plan, I think, needs some amplification.

One such area is a focus on what we need to do to create a stronger sense of community on campus and really pull all the members of the community together in a strong support fashion. So I’ll postpone the specific answer to the question about what changes would I make, but I’d note that it has to follow a good process. And most importantly, it has to follow good listening from the new president. I’m proud to be in the position now to make those changes and to identify what direction we need to go.

Q. What key lessons in leadership have you learned in the military and at the Air Force Academy?

Armacost: The most important lesson I’ve learned is to take good care of your people. It’s a pretty simple statement, but it means so much. And so I think that same sense of commitment to individuals, and commitment to the local community, both on campus and also off campus is an important contribution that I can make.

That will be the dominant theme of my first 90 days here on campus: to show that I hope to be positive part of the lives of everyone on campus.

Q: Now that you’re going to be president of UND, you’ve been saying you’re going to take a great focus on liberal arts. What inspired that?

Armacost: The focus on the liberal arts is a key component of this great public education that we have at the University of North Dakota. The Air Force Academy actually has a very strong focus on what we call a liberal education. What topics and what disciplines do we need our students to focus on to develop as great citizens? The same idea will be in play here at UND.

And the liberal arts are just one component of the great programs that we offer here. There are great STEM programs, great programs in engineering and science. Most importantly, we need to make sure that there are programs that unify and capitalize upon the talents and the experiences of people in other disciplines. That means looking for those connections across disciplines, looking for the opportunity to have an English major work alongside an engineering major when possible.

These are opportunities we should try to dig into, and by doing so, we can capture the spirit of innovation and creativity that come together when you pair people from the arts of humanities with people from STEM disciplines.

So I think there’s great opportunity here at the University of North Dakota to make that happen.

Q: You did a lot of research and analysis of UND in preparation for your new position, I’m sure. Where does UND stand, in your opinion?

Armacost: UND is a flagship state school with amazing programs. It plays an important role not only for the citizens of North Dakota and Minnesota, but also nationally and internationally.

The reputation is strong. One goal of mine is to make it even stronger and to really have the University of North Dakota on the national stage as a go-to university for key areas.

One area challenge that we face, of course, is declining enrollments nationwide. So, that outreach should highlight what the university offers to students across the country. That way, we can attract students who’ll fill up our programs and have a great experience because the University of North Dakota truly takes care of them.

Q: What would you like to say to students, faculty and staff?

Armacost: I would like to say that I’m honored to be able to serve as your president, and I guarantee I will be an active member of your community.

Nothing is more important than using the power of education to put people in great positions to go out and address the world and society’s problems and issues. And so, it’s a real honor to be in this role. I’m thrilled with the warm reception that I’ve received from the entire community, and I look forward to being a permanent member.