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Proud to Have Served

USU President Noelle Cockett waves from a pickup during the homecoming parade
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When I first arrived at Utah State University in 1990 as a new professor studying sheep genetics, I never imagined becoming USU’s president someday.

Instead, my days were filled with organizing and delivering an animal genetics class, writing papers and grants, traveling to scientific conferences, and conducting research in my lab. The years flew by with certain memories standing out. For instance, the night we discovered the genetic marker associated with a muscling trait in sheep and I drove right through a red light I was so deep in thought. Or worrying that our bum lambs were bored so we brought them rubber balls and rings to play with (which they did not). Or seeing my son wheeling around my lab in his baby walker while I helped my lab tech isolate DNA. It’s hard to believe over 32 years have passed since I came to USU and that I was USU’s president for the last six years — who would have guessed …

During my time as president, USU has increased student graduation rates, including that of first-generation students, earned the distinguished rank of an R1 research institution, benefitted from record fundraising and the generosity of alumni and friends, established a new College of Veterinary Medicine and the Janet Quinney Lawson Institute of Land, Water, Air, and also importantly, have strengthened the university’s reputation for diversity and inclusion. I am proud of these accomplishments, but it’s time for me to pass the baton.

My schedule as president is loaded with events to attend. Sometimes I go because I have been asked to give opening remarks. Sometimes there are people who I want to recognize. Sometimes I attend to simply show my support from the sidelines. No matter what it is, I always leave a USU event with a tremendous surge of pride.

For instance, during Homecoming, I listened to the stories of Aggies being recognized by the USU Alumni Association and I found myself tearing up considering their impact. Graduates like Oscar Marquina ’05, MBA ’10, an angel investor who works to boost outcomes for Hispanic and Latinx communities, who immigrated to the United States from Venezuela and then adapted the Huntsman School of Business’s motto to dare to be grateful. (Read his story on pg. xx). As the recipients spoke, I kept thinking “This is USU.”

In November, I signed the documents to establish the Heravi Peace Institute — a gift from USU alum Mehdi Heravi ’63, M.A.’64 — aimed at preparing students to enter the workforce with competency in cultural peacebuilding, conflict management, and nonprofit work.

We aren’t an institution that pumps out billionaires. We don’t have the person of the year gracing the cover of Time magazine. But all of our people have impact in today’s world and all give back, no matter who they are — staff, faculty, or alumni. I am deeply honored and humbled to be part of a university that cares so much about helping others. Last fall, USU was ranked No. 8 of all public universities by the Washington Monthly, whose ranking focuses on social mobility, research, and promoting public service. In other words, USU is one of the top universities propelling graduates to reach new levels of prosperity and service for themselves, their families, and their communities.

At USU, we accept 89% of applicants because our mission is to make higher education possible for all Utahns. We have kept our doors wide open and focused on developing programs to foster student persistence. We graduate more Pell grant recipients than any other public institution in Utah, and USU alumni pay back their college loans at the highest percentage in the state. Translated, this means that our degrees get students into the workforce at levels where they can thrive. These are the measures that we are proud of.

Through my travels around the state, I’ve met alumni who have prioritized lifting others up along the way. People like Mika Salas ‘YR, the superintendent of Carbon County School District, who grew up in the region and returned to focus on programming that will break the cycle of intergenerational poverty. This mentality, focused on cultivating community resilience and reaching out to others who may be struggling, is engrained in almost every Utahn I meet.

At USU, our graduates are doers who dare to be grateful. They dare to give back. They dare to have impact. I don’t know if we attract those students or if we build those attributes in the students, but when they leave USU, they care. And I am so, so proud of them. And I am so, so proud to have served as USU president. Go Aggies!

By Noelle E. Cockett, USU President

Photos by Levi Sim

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