Three finalists named in USU presidential search

Public meetings with finalists May 17; presidential appointment expected May 19

After an extensive national search, the Utah State University Presidential Search Committee has recommended three finalists to the Utah Board of Higher Education for the position of President: Rodney D. Bennett, Elizabeth “Betsy” R. Cantwell and Kenneth “Ken” L. White.

“The process of selecting institutional presidents is one that prioritizes engagement, impartiality and diligence,” said Lisa Michele Church, Chair of the Utah Board of Higher Education. “The Utah Board of Higher Education is so grateful to the USU Presidential Search Committee for its meticulous and independent examination of candidates and their qualifications to lead this top-tier research university. They considered all feedback received from USU faculty, staff, students and community members. Our Board is looking forward to interviewing the three presidential finalists.”

The Utah Board of Higher Education named a 19-member search committee, including a variety of community members and stakeholders, in December 2022. That committee, co-chaired by Board member Rick Wheeler and USU Board of Trustees Chair Kent Alder, spent several months soliciting input through public meetings and in-person interviews and conducted research to select finalists qualified to fill the president’s role according to statutory criteria. 

Applicants are evaluated for many qualities, including their academic and research credentials, leadership experience, community engagement and vision for the institution they hope to lead. Both internal and external candidates are considered. This search, as well as others in the past, was conducted on a confidential basis until finalists were selected.

The Utah Board of Higher Education will interview the following finalists (listed here in alphabetical order):

Rodney D. Bennett, Ed.D., served nearly ten years as president of The University of Southern Mississippi (USM), a comprehensive public research institution with more than 14,000 students on campuses in South Mississippi and along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. His appointment made history as the first African American president of a predominantly white higher education institution in Mississippi.

Bennett established the vision for The University of Southern Mississippi to become the model for public higher education across the country, with six key institutional priorities: ensuring student success; expanding enrollment strategies; enhancing academic instruction; fostering a greater focus on research; bolstering economic and community partnerships; and maximizing human potential. Under his leadership, USM achieved R1 status; reached significant fundraising milestones; and invested in new faculty positions, diversity and inclusion initiatives, student success programming, and nearly $300 million in capital improvements.

USM’s research enterprise includes experts in ocean science and engineering, polymer science and engineering, and large event venue safety and security, among others. USM generates an annual economic impact of more than $663 million across the state. 

Bennett has a strong commitment to community leadership and engagement. As president, he chaired the athletic conference board and represented the conference as a founding member of the College Football Playoff national championship Board of Managers. He is a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., and Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity, The Boulé.

A native of Knoxville, Tennessee, he and his wife, Temple, are the parents of two adult daughters, Colby and Logan.

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Elizabeth “Betsy” R. Cantwell, Ph.D., is Senior Vice President for Research & Innovation at the University of Arizona (UA). Cantwell is responsible for an $825M annual research portfolio and her responsibilities include the 1,268-acre UA Tech Park. The UA Tech Parks contribute $1.7B annually to the regional economy. The research and innovation enterprise spans 20 academic colleges with physical locations across Arizona, 12 university-level centers and institutes and other major research-related affiliated organizations conducting classified and contractual work. 

Cantwell came to UA from Arizona State University (ASU) where she served as VP for Research Development and CEO of the ASU Research Enterprise, a 501.c.3 dedicated to translating research. Prior to ASU, Cantwell served at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) as Director for Economic Development and Director for Engineering Mission Strategy. From 2008-2010, she served as Deputy Associate Director for Global Security at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and she served at the Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in earlier years.

Cantwell is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School (MBA, 2003); the University of California, Berkeley (Ph.D., Mechanical Engineering, 1992); and the University of Chicago (BA, Human Behavior 1976). She is a current member of the NASEM Committee on NASA Critical Workforce, Technology & Infrastructure, and is a Fellow of the AAAS in Industrial Science and Technology. She serves on the board for the ISS National Laboratory and is Chair of the Space Telescope Science Institute Council.

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Kenneth “Ken” L. WhitePh.D., currently serves as Vice President for Utah State University Extension, Dean of the College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences (CAAS), and Director of the Utah Agricultural Experiment Station.

He was previously head of USU’s Department of Animal, Dairy and Veterinary Sciences, where he has been a faculty member since 1991. Prior to that, White was a member of the faculty in the Department of Animal Science at Louisiana State University.

He earned a Bachelor of Science in Animal Science at Brigham Young University in 1979, a master’s degree in animal science, and a Ph.D. in physiology from the University of California Davis in 1982 and 1986, respectively.

White has generated over $17.3 million in extramural funding while at USU to support research in animal reproduction and embryonic development. He is a Utah Governor’s Medal for Science and Technology honoree and was named a USU Researcher, Undergraduate Mentor, and Outstanding Graduate Mentor of the Year. White has published over 100 peer-reviewed scientific articles and led the nuclear transfer team that produced the world’s first cloned equines, three identical mule foals.

He served as USU Faculty Athletics Representative (1999-2014) and in national NCAA leadership positions focused on student-athlete well-being, education, and rules compliance. He is on the board of directors of the USU Space Dynamics Laboratory. White is among the leaders responsible for establishing USU’s School of Veterinary Medicine and significant Utah Agricultural Experiment Station and Extension initiatives on water, public lands, food security, and public health.

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From left to right: Rodney D. Bennett, Elizabeth “Betsy” R. Cantwell and Kenneth “Ken” L. White.

Next steps

The finalists will be on USU’s Logan campus on Wednesday, May 17, 2023, to meet with groups representing faculty, staff, students, trustees, statewide campuses, Extension and administration. Each finalist will participate in a public meeting on the afternoon of May 17, where attendees from USU’s community and the general public will have the opportunity to ask questions of the candidates.

Public meeting schedule

Utah State University: Logan Campus
David & Ellen Stoddard Eccles Conference Center (Auditorium, 2nd floor)
550 N 900 E, Logan, UT, 84322

  • 2:00-2:45 p.m. – Rodney D. Bennett
  • 3:00-3:45 p.m. – Elizabeth “Betsy” R. Cantwell
  • 4:00-4:45 p.m. – Kenneth “Ken” L. White

Members of the campus community and public are welcome to attend in person or watch these sessions online.

Those unable to attend these meetings are encouraged to submit an anonymous comment online or by email at More information on public meetings is available at

On Friday, May 19, 2023, the Utah Board of Higher Education will interview the finalists in a closed session. The Board may convene a public meeting at Utah State University: Logan Campus in the Taggart Student Center (West Ballroom) at 4:30 p.m. that day to select the president. However, it may convene at another time, in which case a meeting will be announced at a later date.

Media Inquiries

Trisha Dugovic
Communications Director