Gazette: Campus News New U President David Pershing, Go Learn with U experts, new Pioneer Theatre artistic director, and more

David W. Pershing Named President of the University

David W. Pershing

David W. Pershing

On January 20, the State Board of Regents announced that David W. Pershing had been selected as the 15th president of the University of Utah, capping a seven-month national search.

Pershing, senior vice president of academic affairs at the U since 1998, joined the University as an assistant professor in chemical engineering in 1977. The 20-member presidential search committee, appointed last summer by the regents, picked him as one of two finalists on January 17 after several days of comprehensive interviews. Kumble R. Subbaswamy, provost at the University of Kentucky, was the other finalist.

The search committee—composed of regents, faculty and staff members, a student leader, and outside donors and advisors—had worked with a search firm and considered more than 80 potential candidates to fill the position following the departure of former president Michael K. Young in 2011. After months of soliciting public input through statewide public meetings and online submissions, the group narrowed the field to four individuals qualified to take the helm, but two withdrew their candidacy because they didn’t want their names to be made public.

“The support of U faculty, students, and staff, along with the statewide community as a whole, has been tremendous throughout this search process,” notes the search committee’s chair, Regent Nolan Karras.

The search committee faced a particular challenge in the hunt for a new leader. Several top universities—including the universities of Arizona, California-San Diego, and New Mexico, as well as Iowa State, Temple, and Rutgers universities—had also initiated national searches for top talent, and some of those who applied for the job at the U had also applied at other schools.

At the news conference announcing his appointment, Pershing indicated that improving undergraduate education would be one of his top priorities. He pledged to make sure the University encourages and assists those who seek a college education. “I want every well-prepared high school student to think about coming to the University of Utah,” he said. He pointed out that the U’s enrollment strategy would be undergoing a change (see “Faces of the Future”) and that the University of Utah would strive to help students graduate in a timely fashion.

Pershing received many honors during his prior academic and administrative career at the U. He was named a Presidential Young Investigator by the National Science Foundation in 1984 and became dean of the College of Engineering in 1987. He has more than 80 peer-reviewed publications, more than 20 research grants, and five patents to his credit. Pershing has won both the Distinguished Teaching and Distinguished Research awards and is the 1997 recipient of the Rosenblatt Prize for Excellence, the U’s highest honor. He was the director of the University of Utah’s Center for Simulation of Accidental Fires and Explosions, fueled by a $40 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. Pershing holds a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Purdue University and a doctorate in the same field from the University of Arizona.

Pershing will take office as president in March. His inauguration is slated for October. An in-depth profile of Pershing will appear in the Fall 2012 issue of Continuum.

Travel and Learn With an Expert from the U

Ever wanted to go on a truffle hunt? How about wine tastings or cooking lessons—in Italy? Now, a University faculty expert on all things Italian will lead the way when Continuing Education’s new Go Learn program offers its first trip May 5-15. Travelers will be guided on a custom tour through the heart of Italy, loaded with discoveries and learning.

After nearly a decade without a travel program for the community, the U is initiating Go Learn to once again engage participants in meaningful educational travel. The trips include both domestic and international destinations.

“I am really excited to have University experts lead trips and to reach out to the community in such a way that we truly connect campus to the rest of the valley and beyond,” says Christoph Dressler, the program’s director.

Go Learn is open to community members, friends, and alumni of the U who want to explore the world with the expertise of University faculty and academic leaders.

Find more information at

Momentum Builds With Together We Reach

James L. Sorenson Molecular Biotechnology Building

James L. Sorenson Molecular Biotechnology Building

In the fall of 2008, the University of Utah launched the public phase of Together We Reach: The Campaign for the University of Utah, with the ambitious goal of raising $1.2 billion through gifts to scholarships, research, new facilities, and program support. Despite the recession, the campaign has thrived, thanks to the overwhelming generosity of University alumni and friends.

Campaign donations have helped fund, from top, scholarships for U students, new facilities such as the Robert A. and Diane J. McDonald Lecture Hall in the Spencer Fox Eccles Business Building, and world-class research.

Early in 2012, the campaign realized its original goal, but there is much to accomplish before the campaign ends in late 2013. Since the campaign began, the University has more than doubled the number of new donors to a total of more than 103,000, meaning that more than 56,000 new donors have pledged their support to the U.

The success of the campaign to date has been overwhelmingly positive and has revitalized interest in the U’s threefold mission of teaching, research, and service. The campus has never looked more beautiful, the caliber of students and faculty has never been higher, and technological advancement from U labs continues to find its way to those who need it most.

“The success of the capital campaign has shown us just how much our alumni and friends care about the University and the vital contribution it makes to the state, the nation, and the world,” says newly appointed President David Pershing. “However, with nearly two years to go in the campaign, there is still much more we must do to make the University truly world-class.”

One of the goals the University is still pursuing in the campaign is enhancing the overall educational experience at the University, particularly for undergraduate students—including dramatically increasing funding for both merit and need-based scholarships. Other priorities include strengthening opportunities for students through the MUSE initiative, construction of the Student Life Center, and further promoting student innovation through the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program. In addition, the U sees the extension of the campaign as an opportunity to completely fund building projects already under way, including the Spencer Fox Eccles Business Building, the Beverley Taylor Sorenson Arts and Education Complex, the Thatcher Chemistry Building, and the Crocker Science Center.

The University also has embraced other opportunities that have presented themselves since the campaign began, which include a new home for the law school, improved facilities for football and sports medicine, a center for international activities, a film and media arts center, a “net-zero” facility for the College of Architecture + Planning, and new student housing. Plans to grow support for U research and provide backing for arts, athletics, cultural services, and facilities are also in the mix.

For more information about the campaign, please visit

Campus Notebook

University’s School of Business Opens Spencer Fox Eccles Business Building

Spencer Fox Eccles Business Building

Spencer Fox Eccles Business Building

The David Eccles School of Business cut the ribbon in early November 2011 on the Spencer Fox Eccles Business Building, the school’s new flagship educational facility.

The building has been named in honor of Spencer Fox “Spence” Eccles BS’56 (banking and finance), chairman emeritus of the Intermountain Region of Wells Fargo & Co., and former chair and CEO of First Security Corporation.

The building’s Phase 1 space was occupied by students and faculty in January of this year, and Phase 2 is slated for completion in May 2013. Included in both phases of the “green-friendly” facility is the latest in state-of-the-art wireless technology, podcasting, and video-conferencing capabilities.

University of Utah Gets $12 Million from Prestigious Federal Program

The University of Utah is launching a six-year effort to conduct basic research aimed at developing new materials for uses ranging from faster computers and communications devices to better microscopes and solar cells.

The new Center of Excellence in Materials Research and Innovation is being established and funded for six years by a $12 million grant from the National Science Foundation, $6.5 million for major equipment from the Utah Science Technology and Research initiative, and $3 million from the U. The new center involves more than two dozen researchers from seven departments in the College of Science, College of Engineering, and College of Mines and Earth Sciences.

Pioneer Theatre Company Names Azenberg as New Artistic Director

Pioneer Theatre Company has named Karen Azenberg as its new artistic director. She will become just the fourth artistic director in PTC’s 50-year history, and the first woman in the job.

Azenberg assumes duties in July from Charles Morey, who will have held the post for 28 years when he retires in June. Azenberg was previously a New York-based freelance theater director, but Utahns should already be familiar with her work: She has choreographed and/or directed such PTC productions as Next to Normal, Rent, and Miss Saigon.

Torti Leading U’s Honors College

Sylvia Torti

Sylvia Torti

Biologist and writer Sylvia Torti PhD’98 has been appointed dean of the University of Utah Honors College.

Torti joined the U faculty in 2003 as research assistant professor in biology and has been associate director of the University’s Rio Mesa Center, a research and education center located near Moab, Utah. Torti also has a parallel career as a literary writer, having so far published one novel, several short stories, and essays.

In addition to a doctorate in biology from the U, she holds a bachelor of arts degree from Earlham College. She did her graduate work in tropical biology in the Congo, Panama, Mexico, and Trinidad.

Middle East Center to Be Restructured, Two Interim Co-Directors Appointed

The U’s Middle East Center is embarking on a two-year restructuring program.

The process will be overseen by interim co-directors Kirk Jowers and Bob Goldberg, who have agreed to provide oversight for this period. Jowers heads the Hinckley Institute of Politics, and Goldberg leads the Tanner Humanities Center.

The Middle East Center’s former director, Bahman Baktiari, was fired in June 2011 following accusations of plagiarism. Under the restructuring plan, the Middle East Center will suspend its graduate program and eliminate joint faculty appointments. At the conclusion of this two-year interim period, a search for a new director will begin.

Ed Catmull to Speak at U Commencement

Ed Catmull

Ed Catmull

Ed Catmull BS’69 PhD’74, president and cofounder of Pixar Animation Studios, will deliver the University’s general commencement address on May 4.

Catmull contributed to the world of computer graphics while a student at the U, but his main goal was always to one day create a full-length feature film entirely generated by computer graphics. In 1995, Catmull achieved his goal and revolutionized the film industry with the Pixar motion picture Toy Story.

Catmull received bachelor of science degrees in physics and computer science as well as a doctorate in computer science from the University of Utah. Since producing Toy Story, Catmull’s Pixar has created dozens of short and feature-length animated films, such as Finding Nemo and many others.


In Memoriam

Chi-Bin Chien, 46, professor in the U’s Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy

John W. Ryan BA’51, Ph.D., 81, president emeritus of Indiana University and founding chancellor of the University of Massachusetts at Boston, among many other higher education leadership positions

Ralph Thomson BA’62, 74, a longtime member of the U’s National Advisory Council and policy adviser to five presidential administrations

For more on these and other memoria, click here.

Leave a Comment

Comments are moderated, so there may be a slight delay before approved comments are posted. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with an asterisk (*).