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A Note From Noelle: Make a Difference

USU President Noelle Cockett holds baskets of vegetables from her garden.
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As I conclude my sixth year as president and my 32nd year at Utah State University, I’ve reflected on how I can continue to serve and support the institution I love so much.

This reflection has led me to announce that I’m stepping down as president on July 1, 2023. That timeframe will allow USU to conduct a national search for its next president. It is my great honor to know this transition to a new leader is occurring at a time when USU is solidly on its trajectory to greatness.

I am deeply honored to be affiliated with an institution that has the same core values used in the Washington Monthly’s analysis of schools. Unlike other national rankings, it distinguishes colleges based on three categories (social mobility, research, and promoting public service) that are top priorities for me and embedded within Utah State University’s mission. In 2022, Utah State was the top-ranked public institution in the state, and garnered the No. 16th and No. 26th spots in the nation for social mobility and community service. But what exactly does that mean?

It means that Aggies are not only well positioned to provide for themselves and their families when they graduate, but Aggies also work to better their communities. One reason Utah State scored so high in community service is because of the university’s Carnegie Community Engagement Classification — a designation made by the Carnegie Foundation that recognizes schools actively engaged with community partners to address local challenges. USU’s commitment to community engagement is evident in what our staff, faculty, and students do to make a difference in the world.

For instance, after participating in homeless outreach activities last winter, USU social work graduate student Nicole Burnard responded by developing the William A. Burnard Warming Center, an overnight emergency shelter and the first of its kind in Cache Valley. It opened earlier this month to provide a warm, safe place for unhoused populations during the coldest months of the year. The center is named for Nicole’s grandfather, a former director of the Children’s Justice Center. When she received USU’s Ivory Award in May, she said the effort prioritized “the dignity and worth of the people who need it and will make our community stronger and safer for all.” That is the Aggie way.

I am inspired by people like Nicole who see a problem and do what they can to fix it. Each semester, students across the university enroll in Community-Engaged Learning classes that put skills taught in the classroom into real-world practice. In recent years, students from across the university have participated in community-engaged learning classes such as the Daigwade project, a National Science Foundation funded effort to preserve and share the culture of the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation.

However, USU’s community engagement goes beyond the classroom. As a land-grant institution with 33 statewide locations throughout Utah, each location is deeply rooted in the local community. USU Extension agents are present in all but one county and help shape responses to community-level issues. For instance, this summer in Roosevelt, Extension’s Tribal and Rural Opioid Initiative hosted the 5th annual Intertribal Opioid Wellness Summit to share strategies for addressing the ongoing opioid epidemic.

For me, rankings don’t mean much if we don’t factor in the impact of what we teach and do at Utah State. Our impact is far more than who graduates. I am inspired by Aggies like Utah’s First Lady Abby Cox ’98 who is spending her time in the state’s highest office trying to bring Utahns together. Her Show Up initiative is the opposite of drawing lines to separate people of different beliefs and abilities. Instead she calls on all of us to “get proximate” with empathy and open hearts. Additionally, the work of USU’s Utah Assistive Technology Program whose staff members and volunteers work to engineer custom-made devices for Utahns statewide to help them keep and improve their independence is inspiring. This is who we are. And this is why I am so proud to be an Aggie.

By Noelle Cockett, USU President
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