If there is one thing you should know about Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Mitzi M. Montoya, it is that she is always ready for an adventure. From zipping to California over the new year to spend her first days on the job at the Rose Bowl to packing up her house in New Mexico and driving to Utah with her cat in the midst of snow and rain, she is not afraid. She is ready for the challenge, even if it means buying an emergency pair of $15 galoshes to get through the first snow of the season when she was on campus for a visit. As the former dean of the Anderson School of Management at the University of New Mexico and vice provost then vice president at Arizona State University, Montoya has broken barriers as a thought leader in higher education. She joins the University of Utah with a vigor for solving problems and a passion for innovating change for the greater good. Montoya answered some questions for us so we can get to know her better.
How can being a student or faculty member at the U impact the community?
As faculty, we teach people how to think, and that prepares them to address the larger challenges in the world. As researchers, we solve problems, we ask hard questions and we uncover truths. We bring our knowledge and expertise to bear on issues that matter and can help make the world a better and more equitable place. Whether it is a humanitarian or social problem, a health care crisis, an educational challenge or a technical constraint, I believe we should see ourselves as problem solvers who are committed to serving our community and state; we aren’t just thinkers, we are doers.
What is your favorite book?
Who could possibly pick just one? A book that impacted how I see research universities is “Pasteur’s Quadrant: Basic Science and Technological Innovation” by Donald E. Stokes. It’s about the relationship between discovery-oriented research and its application for the betterment of society—both matter and we must do both to solve the problems of today and tomorrow. Our capacity to remain innovative and build a more just and equitable world is tied to our ability to think and do, the two have to be connected. I also love the book “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln” by Doris Kearns Goodwin. There are so many great lessons from President Abraham Lincoln but what I admire about this book are the many leadership lessons on courage in the face of adversity and how to not only deal with differences but also respect and value them.
What inspires you about higher education?
There are brilliant, inspiring people in higher education—faculty and staff and students doing important, creative, difficult things. They are the future. The more we create access to the excellence of a research university, the more we help people realize their potential. I love higher education because you never know what is going to be the spark that lights a fire in someone new.
What’s the best thing about the latest generation of students?
They care about making a difference and lifting up their families and communities. They care about the environment, helping others and having a purpose in life. I see much more openness to others and a naturally created, freely given level of acceptance.
What are the main goals you’d like to accomplish as provost?
My goal is to help make the president’s bold vision for the U a reality. To me, this means I’ll work with my team to build support systems and structures that make our academic leaders’ and faculty’s jobs easier. Our goal is to make the University of Utah experience an amazing one for every single student who attends. I’d also like to help make the U the best possible partner we can be in support of our community and state.