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A Note From Noelle: Inspiring Firsts

president Noelle Cockett talks with students at the Anthropology Museum.
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When I was a kid in Montana, I loved pretending that I was a pioneer – being the first to explore a new area in the American West.

My exploration of new lands was done by riding a stick horse miles and miles and miles, along cattle paths that I pretended were buffalo trails. One treasured fantasy was pretending I was part of the Lewis and Clark Expedition that mapped the Yellowstone River, including where it flows a mile from my childhood home.

This fascination with being “the first” has continued through my professional career.  Over the years, I’ve reported the discovery of several genetic mutations that influence or cause traits in farm animals. My research team was the first to name callipyge, a phenotype that results in heavily muscled buttocks in sheep. I’ve also been the first woman in several positions I’ve held at Utah State University, including the appointment as USU’s 16th President and first female president. While I don’t believe that I was appointed to the president’s position because of an affirmative action goal, I do believe my hire is an affirmative action success for USU and the state of Utah.

When traveling outside the state of Utah promoting USU with my husband John, I recall introductions where the people assume John is the USU president. It is not everyone’s first reaction to assume a woman is holding a senior leadership role.

I think the West is where it is easier for women to make their mark in leadership. When pioneer women came to the Intermountain West, they walked beside the men across the prairie. Pioneer women were right there building the homes and settling the land. In addition, the West’s legacy in agriculture has used women’s hands and expertise in growing plants, crops, and animals. Therefore, it doesn’t surprise me that five of the ten university presidents in Utah and seven of the 12 presidents in the Mountain West Conference are women.

I believe many women practice a collaborative management style that is very much needed and welcomed in today’s world. Women frequently invite diverse voices to the table and seek alternative opinions and ideas when making decisions. Women leaders often have high approval ratings because people within an organization appreciate when their voices are heard and when their input is valued. I hope more women seek leadership opportunities in the coming years and leverage their roles by using transformative management when leading their unit.

One of my goals in creating the University’s Year of the Woman campaign that started in August is to lift up the often-forgotten legacies of the women who carved a path for women’s suffrage in the United States. We have partnered with organizations such as Better Days 2020 to carry these stories across the state. My second goal for the Year of the Woman is to celebrate the women who helped make USU what it is today and have brought wonderful attention to our great university. Since I first joined the faculty in 1990, I have met the most incredible women affiliated with USU—people who are mothers and sisters, astronauts and entrepreneurs. I want to share these special stories with people who love USU.

My hope is throughout 2020 you will join me in celebrating the women and their pioneering ways who shaped USU, Utah, and beyond. And in that way, we can inspire others to become “a first.”

– Noelle Cockett, USU President
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2 COMMENTS
  • Concerned Alumnus January 14, 2020

    If I may speak for the culture of Utah, we’re not interested in fighting for which sex, gender, race, or other population is superior. This aggressive approach is much more competitive than is necessary. The fact that Noelle Cockett is the first woman president is not a “success” and does not merit celebration over anyone else becoming president because women (and men) in leadership should be a normal thing, not a competition for which population is perceived as better. Really, she’s just a person with a job like the rest of us and doesn’t deserve to be treated like a heroine.

    I can’t say I like what I’ve seen since Noelle Cockett has become president, and it’s not because she’s a woman. It’s because she seems to have a political agenda and is pushing those values on the university (not just in this publication). I am very worried about the impressionable college students who haven’t yet been taught to think for themselves. I would be satisfied with her as president if she kept these personal beliefs to herself and stuck to her position as university president rather than an activist. This means only publishing articles and emails that are relevant to the university (academics and student affairs, mostly). It is not right for a person in a leadership position to use their power to push their personal values, especially that which does not represent the local culture. The national academic culture might push political values (especially in the social sciences), but that doesn’t mean the community of Logan, Utah or even the people in the state or region agree with these values. Outside of academia, normal citizens, are more interested in non-competitive fairness.

    I went to Utah State and graduated with honors. Up until now, I was proud of my alumni status. If the university continues on this destructive political path, I will discourage my children and everyone else from studying at USU. Hire a president that will strive to be unbiased and appropriately represent the culture in which the university resides!

    • Concerned Student January 15, 2020

      As a woman in the honors program as well as in multiple leadership positions on and off Utah State’s campus, Noelle showing that she has a voice for her values and as a collaborative leader gives me hope for this university. The fact that it has taken sixteen presidents for one to be a female deserves merit. Her discoveries in research capacities deserve merit. Being a woman in leadership means having to work slightly harder because of societal unconscious bias, and her success in that not only deserves merit, but provides an example for aspiring women leaders on this campus and beyond.
      Yes, women in leadership positions should be a normal thing, but it is not. That is proven by multiple accounts of women leaders’ husbands or workers being approached as the person in charge when in a group setting. Noelle is not pushing a political agenda, she is pushing exposure to what ALL of us at Utah State have done throughout the years.
      The culture of this university is one of an open heart, open mind, and striving to learn for the sake of knowledge. Utah State asks us to Meet The Challenge, which, as a female honors student in multiple leadership capacities, is not just the academics for me. It is striving to be taken seriously in those leadership capacities, showing up, and changing a society to one where it won’t take another sixteen presidents for one to be female.

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