As I complete my first year as president, I want to thank you for your support and efforts to help propel the University of Utah toward our goal of becoming a top 10 public university with unsurpassed societal impact. As I stated in my inaugural address last March, I want to reimagine the future of education at the U by creating an unparalleled student experience—one that gives prospective students a sense of "FOMO" (fear of missing out) if they don’t attend the University of Utah. We want them to stand in line to come here—and we want to do this at scale.
To this end, I’m pleased to announce the appointment of a new cabinet-level position—chief experience officer. Andrea Thomas, assistant dean of undergraduate studies at the David Eccles School of Business, will begin this new role at the start of the 2022-23 school year.
Chief experience consultants and officers have long been deployed in the private sector, but not necessarily in higher education. We are among a few universities in the U.S. to have this position, which was created to help us better address outside market pressures and internal coordination issues such as siloed systems and disconnected elements of the student lifecycle. As a result of being a decentralized campus, our students often face an unnecessarily confusing array of services, activities and initiatives. This confusion can lead to prolonged time-to-degree, delayed entry into majors, unnecessary frustration and a diminished overall student experience.
As chief experience officer, Thomas will be tasked with overseeing multidisciplinary teams of designers, data experts and other professionals who will look across, within and outside our organization to better understand the experience from the students’ perspective. We expect her and her team to make recommendations for strategic change to ensure students can succeed from start to finish with greater ease, deeper learning and a more memorable experience. She will work with various campus leaders (e.g., senior associate vice president for academic affairs and dean of the Office of Undergraduate Studies; senior associate vice president for enrollment management; vice president for equity, diversity, and inclusion; vice president for student affairs), units and initiatives across the U to enhance the user experience of all Utah students. This team of colleagues will use evidence-based research to identify the bottlenecks and redundancies in our systems, the areas where we’re falling short in connecting student services and ways we can foster collaboration.
Thomas, a U alum, is uniquely qualified for this new position having spent most of her 29-year career in brand management, retail marketing, innovation, and sustainability. She spent nearly nine years at Walmart Inc. in a variety of roles including senior vice president of marketing for the U.S. business where she was responsible for marketing strategy, brand marketing and local marketing; senior vice president of sustainability, which included corporate environmental programs, women’s economic empowerment and the healthy foods initiative; and senior vice president of private brands where she oversaw branding, packaging, product development and sourcing for the $20 billion portfolio of food and consumable brands.
Before joining Walmart in October 2007, Thomas was vice president of global chocolate for the Hershey Co., where she was responsible for platform innovation for Hershey’s portfolio of global brands. Previously, Thomas spent 13 years at PepsiCo Inc. where she worked in brand management, innovation and retail marketing at Frito-Lay and Pizza Hut launching Tostitos Scoops, managing the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl and coordinating the NFL and Disney relationships. She received a B.S. in mass communication and public relations from the U, an MBA from BYU and an Ed.D. in higher education management from the University of Pennsylvania.