University of Wyoming Announces a New President - Wyoming Magazine


University of Wyoming Announces a New President


University of Wyoming Announces a New President

The University of Wyoming has hired its 26th president. It’s Dr.Laurie Nichols. A native of South Dakota, Dr. Nichols is an experienced educator. She has taught in Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Nebraska, Ohio, and South Dakota on both secondary and post-secondary levels. Dr. Nichols’ work as a researcher and educator has earned her numerous awards. Her role in creating the innovative Great Plains Interactive Distance Education Alliance (IDEA) won her national acclaim. Prior to being hired as president of the University of Wyoming, Dr. Nichols was South Dakota State University’s Provost and chief academic officer since 2009.

Dr. Nichols is the University of Wyoming’s first woman president. The married mother of two college-age daughters, Dr. Laurie Stenberg Nichols was the first member of her family to attend college. In 1978, she graduated from South Dakota State University with a bachelor’s in Education. In 1984 she earned a Master’s from Colorado State University in Vocational and Adult Education, and a Ph.D. from Ohio State University in Family and Consumer Sciences Education followed in 1988. After graduation in 1988, Dr. Nichols accepted a faculty position at the University of Idaho. She remained there until 1994.

After leaving the University of Idaho in 1994, Dr. Nichols became the dean of South Dakota State University’s College of Family and Consumer Sciences through 2009. Dr. Nichols was a class of 2006-2007 American Council on Education Fellow. She spent the fall semester being mentored by Provost Jeri Echeverria and President John Welty of the California State University at Fresno. In August 2008 she began an 11 month stint in Aberdeen, South Dakota as Northern State University’s Interim President. When she returned to South Dakota State University in 2009, she was promoted to Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs.

A Board of Trustees for the Barry Goldwater Scholarship member and member of the Great Plain’s IDEA cabinet, Dr. Nichols was South Dakota Voices for Children and American Association for Family & Consumer Sciences Higher Education Unit chair. She also holds numerous appointments to a wide range of state and local boards dealing with issues related to women and children’s well-being. Dr. Nichols has also been the Board on Human Sciences Vice President of Programs.

Dr. Nichols says she is a product of land-grant universities, having either attended or taught at five of them. The University of Idaho, South Dakota State, Colorado State University, Ohio State, and the University of Wyoming are all land-grant universities. Land-grant universities are institutions of higher learning that are funded by the states through the sale of federally controlled land. The mission of land-grant universities is to teach practical skills including agriculture, engineering, general science, and military science. These land-grants are covered under the Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890. Dr. Nichols explained that she loves and believes in the land-grant schools’ mission of research, outreach, service, and teaching and is happy to be a part of a school which embraces that mission.

A well-respected and beloved educator and social activist, Dr. Nichols was the unanimous choice of the University of Wyoming board of trustees. When they offered her the opportunity to succeed outgoing president Dick McGinity, she was thrilled, honored and excited. She said it’s a perfect fit and ‘an incredible opportunity’ and praised both the university and the state. The board loved her enthusiasm, experience, and ability to work with the school’s diverse stakeholders. Dr. Nichols has left a legacy of excellence everywhere she has gone and the board anticipates her continuing that tradition at the University of Wyoming and taking the school to new heights.

When Dr. Laurie Nichols takes office prior to July 1, 2016, it will begin a 3-year contract with a base annual salary of $350,000 and a housing allowance, retention payment, and deferred compensation that totals an additional $110,000. But for Dr. Nichols and the University of Wyoming her hiring is not about money or her making history as the school’s first woman president. It’s about a shared vision Dr. Nichols and the Board of Trustees have about the school’s potential impact on its students, the state, and the country.

When she was offered the position, Dr. Nichols could barely contain her excitement about and gratitude for the chance to do great things at the University of Wyoming. She said among the first things she will do is travel around the state and talk to people to get a deeper understanding of some of the challenges they face. She must also set about upgrading the university’s financial system and budget to provide the faculty and staff with long-needed salary increases. Increasing the diversity of the student body and workforce is another of Dr. Nichols’ stated goals.

Those are just a few of the issues that need to be addressed at the University of Wyoming. Dr. Nichols and the board have identified several others. She plans to address all of the pressing issues as part of her strategic planning efforts she will begin to undertake in the near future. Dr. Nichols plans to visit the University of Wyoming campus a number of times before she takes office. She wants to meet with faculty, staff, students and others to learn about the school, the state, and people’s wants, needs, and expectations. This will enable her to hit the ground running.

It’s that kind of thinking in addition to her track record that got the school interested in hiring Dr. Nichols as school president. She was also thoroughly vetted. Public input was sought. Two search committees made up of community representatives, students, faculty and staff, and the UW Foundation were created. At public meetings they discussed the characteristics and qualifications they wanted the next president to have.

In the end, Dr. Nichols’ training, background, track record, and vision for the future of the university checked all the right boxes. Students, faculty, staff, and the larger community are very excited to have her. They say her unique strengths make her the right leader for the University of Wyoming.


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