UConn’s new ‘rock star’ president brings innovative, global vision

Radenka Maric, the second woman to lead Connecticut's flagship university and a respected engineer, is the 'perfect change agent' to lead it into the future.

Board of Trustees members have called her a “force of nature” and a “rock star.” When they were sifting through 150 applications of those angling to be the next president at the University of Connecticut, those qualities and her array of credentials really stood out.

It helped, too, that they had already seen her leadership in action on campus. So when UConn removed the interim tag and officially named Radenka Maric as the leader of its five-campus system, it knew who it was elevating – a person with international cachet, a strong communicator, an innovator and a Husky at heart.

“Being named president of the University of Connecticut is the honor of a lifetime,” Maric said during a meeting with trustees. “I am proud and humbled to have your confidence and your trust. I love UConn, and I believe in UConn.”

Maric, an engineering professor and vice president for research, innovation and entrepreneurship at UConn, has become only the second woman to earn the role of president at the 33,000-student university based in Storrs. Susan Herbst held the position for nearly a decade before yielding to previous president Thomas Katsouleas, whose fallout with the board led to him resigning in 2021. Maric, who hails from the former Yugoslavia and speaks four languages, had no such issues during the past eight months in charge.

“After working with her, I’ve come to learn that just as rock stars go by one name, she qualifies as our rock star,” Trustee Thomas Ritter said in a statement to UConn’s news team, referring to most everyone calling her Radenka. “She is the perfect change agent, one that can strategically and thoughtfully make meaningful change from within.”

Their trust in Maric showed in that final decision. Among the semifinalist candidates she beat out were four current college or university presidents and five other top academic leaders. She received many endorsements, including one from the state’s top leader, Gov. Ned Lamont, who worked with Maric on a business initiative in Israel.

“Several years ago, I appointed Dr. Maric to serve on the board of Connecticut Innovations based on the incredible contributions made in improving and strengthening UConn’s prowess in research,” he told UConn’s news service. “She understands that making Connecticut the most innovative state in the nation requires collaboration between the world’s leading businesses and our higher education institutions. Our Huskies will remain in good hands under her leadership.”

The board noted several pluses in its choice of Maric, including her willingness to address many of the important issues impacting higher education – diversity, equity and inclusion; improving student outcomes; breaking down silos within its campuses; promoting research initiatives; and tackling student mental health and affordability.

“She is a force of nature: deeply committed to UConn, determined to get results, and all-in when it comes to leading this institution into a future that will be defined by success and achievement,” UConn Board of Trustees Chairman Dan Toscano said.

More from UB: New president seizes the moment, finds her best life at Smith College

Perhaps her biggest strength will be helping UConn raise the bar on innovation and spreading that reach across the world.

A graduate of the University of Belgrade, she earned two more degrees in materials science and energy at Kyoto University. Her wide-ranging career is impressive, including:

  • Spans as a researcher in new energy development as well as a project manager for a fine arts ceramic center in Japan.
  • Program manager at an Atlanta company that worked with nanomaterials
  • A strategic planner at Canada’s Institute for Fuel Cell Innovation.
  • Executive Director of UConn’s Innovation Partnership Building and Technology Park
  • Fulbright Chair Professor at the Politecnico di Milan in Italy.

In the past several years, she has been charged with leading all of UConn’s $375 million in research initiatives across its campuses, while sharing her expertise on clean energy and sustainability with leaders from the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, and the National Oceanographic & Atmospheric Administration. Aside from her quest to uplift students, her mission is to make the world a better place through emerging technology.

“I aspire to have UConn join the ranks of the greatest universities in the world while serving our state, our nation, and students from all walks of life,” Maric said during Wednesday’s meeting. “Our society badly needs an innovative workforce to address pressing issues in areas such as public health, climate change, and social justice. UConn has the talent, perspective, and confidence to create a better future by becoming a more powerful research university that produces an even greater flow of ideas, sparks invention and collaborations, and works to improve the human condition and the quality of life in our community, state, and nation.”

Chris Burt
Chris Burt
Chris is a reporter and associate editor for University Business and District Administration magazines, covering the entirety of higher education and K-12 schools. Prior to coming to LRP, Chris had a distinguished career as a multifaceted editor, designer and reporter for some of the top newspapers and media outlets in the country, including the Palm Beach Post, Sun-Sentinel, Albany Times-Union and The Boston Globe. He is a graduate of Northeastern University.

Most Popular