OGDEN — University of Utah president David W. Pershing ventured northward Monday to visit officials at aerospace companies Janicki and ATK, along with Amer Sports, a sporting equipment company.
“I wanted to talk to them and listen,” Pershing said of the business leaders. “I wanted to know what they need the University of Utah to do for them. We want to serve the whole state.”
Pershing in January was appointed the U of U’s 15th president. He has been on the job since March, although an official inaugural celebration is set for fall.
Pershing is touring the state, taking inventory of what businesses and communities need from University of Utah faculty members and graduates.
Pershing hopes to help Utah’s economy by encouraging more research and business collaborations between industry and the U, he said.
As for graduates, Pershing said that the Ogden businesses he visited, particularly in the aerospace fields, “want even more graduates from us.”
He is also hopeful he can set up internships.
Northern Utah is the latest stop on Pershing’s Great Red Road Trip, which previously has taken him to southwest, central and eastern Utah. Still ahead are visits to Tooele and Utah counties, as well as southeastern Utah.
“It’s exciting to see the technology you have up here, and the things you have in terms of sporting equipment,” Pershing said.
“In the Ogden area, companies are planning for growth, and I believe they will grow.”
Pershing, wearing his trademark red tie and cowboy boots, said he wasn’t in town to poach students from Weber State University.
“Higher education in Utah has so many young people that universities don’t need to compete,” he said.
“One of our main roles is graduate education, so we do see a lot of Weber State graduates who come to us for Ph.D.s and master’s degrees, and we see a lot of undergraduate students from your area come for degree programs you don’t have at Weber State.
“I have worked with (WSU president) Ann Millner for many years now, and we are unified in pushing for strong students and higher education.”
Pershing said he does hope Utah students will consider the U of U as an option for their undergraduate work. As for graduate degrees, the U awards about 90 percent of those earned in the state, he said.
“The architects are ours, and all the lawyers, physicians, dentists and pharmacists,” Pershing said.
Pershing earned his bachelor’s from Purdue University and his Ph.D. from the University of Arizona (where he learned to love cowboy boots). Both degrees were in chemical engineering.
He began teaching chemical engineering at the University of Utah in 1977 and, in 1984, became the dean of the College of Engineering. In 1998, Dr. Pershing was named senior vice president for Academic Affairs, responsible for approximately 1,000 faculty and 25,000 students in the colleges of the main campus.
Pershing is a winner of the Governor’s Medal for Science and Technology. He was 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 said U of U faculty members persuaded him to apply for the job of president. About that same time, he had the opportunity to be considered for the same role at two other universities, which he will not name, but said are Pac 12 and Big 10 schools.
“I love the people in Utah: the faculty, the community and the students,” he said of his decision to stay. “They are generally honest, hard-working and committed. I think the future for Utah looks good compared to many other places.”
Pershing said one thing he didn’t truly grasp when he took on his current job was the 24-hour, seven-days-a-week nature of the position.
“It’s like having a day job and a night job,” he said.
Millner has given her resignation to Weber State, but agreed to stay on until a suitable replacement can be found. Asked what advice he might have for the search committee, Pershing paused to think.
“Being president right now is hard,” he said. “The institution is big and complex, and everyone feels the president is important to them, and their needs are complex.
“I would say, find someone committed who is going to stay and not use the job as a steppingstone.
“Weber State has a good reputation, and we are pleased to collaborate, especially in the sense that many of their undergraduates become our graduate students.”