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New UT Arlington president to prioritize inclusivity, growth in first year at helm

UT Arlington President-Designate Jennifer Cowley, Ph.D., wearing a blue jacket and orange shirt, speaks at a dais behind a blue background and orange-and-blue balloons at UTA's College Park Center April 13, 2022.
Courtesy UT Arlington
Jennifer Cowley, Ph.D., addresses the crowd at her welcome reception in April at UT Arlington's College Park Center. Cowley is the 10th UTA president and first woman to hold the title.

The new president at the University of Texas at Arlington is about a month into her role. Jennifer Cowley is the first woman to lead UTA and the first permanent president since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. She spoke with KERA's Kailey Broussard.

What made you decide to apply for the presidency at UT Arlington?

The University of Texas at Arlington has had phenomenal growth and change over the past several decades and it's just been really exciting from a distance to watch the impact that the university is having on our region. The opportunity to lead such a fine institution was really attractive, plus I get to move back to my hometown, which was just the icing on the cake.

What specific goals do you have for the first year of your presidency?

Sure, so the first year is going to be spent building our strategic plan, and so we've identified a vision of becoming one of the most inclusive and impactful universities in the country. We're going to focus on four major themes: around our research and innovation, around student success, people and culture and alumni and community engagement. We're already starting conversations in each of those four areas about what we can do to increase our impact on our region, state and the world.

What's been your experience working with city officials as both the city and UTA figure out how best to grow with each other?

I've had the wonderful opportunity of meeting with the mayor, many of our city council members, our city manager, and everybody has been unified in saying we have a great partnership with the University of Texas at Arlington and we just want to make that even stronger and look at ways that we can partner together. There are already lots of ideas that are beginning to percolate and we look forward to continuing those conversations in the coming weeks and months.

What have been some of the projects and research that people are working on at UTA that are particularly interesting to you?

We have several projects that I think are really fun in creating the kind of impact that we want to have. For example, we have our nursing and social work students that are partnering together and working with dementia patients. They're getting them to tell their stories and reminisce about their memories that they have from the past. They're matching those with images and archival materials and are putting together digital stories that are helping to support those dementia patients and improving their quality of life and experience.

That's one example. Another we have one of our doctoral students in biology who has been studying lizards of Texas and found that two of them are fighting for turf and one bullying the other and what can we do from a habitat preservation perspective to support both of these lizards thriving in the state of Texas?

A third example I'll give is every year we have a fantastic event called The Big Event and it's where our students and faculty and staff come together and volunteer out in the community--working with food pantries and helping to paint houses and all kinds of other service activities that just kind of show how much we are committed to the communities we serve.

What legacy would you like to leave with UTA during your time at the helm?

As we imagine what this place will be like in 20, 30 years, I hope that people will say that this became an amazing place to work, that we could make our students successful and allow them to go out and have impact in the world and we do it in a way that we feel like we're including everybody and that everybody can thrive here.

What significance does being the first woman to hold the presidency mean to you?

I think it's a very important symbol, that this is a time of change for this university and for many places across the country, to see more women and persons of color reaching into the highest levels of leadership. At the end of the day I hope that in the years to come we're focused on the outcomes that we're able to achieve, but I recognize that I serve as a symbol that it's possible for anybody to reach and have this role.

Got a tip? Email Kailey Broussard at You can follow Kailey on Twitter @KaileyBroussard.

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Kailey Broussard is a reporter for KERA and The Texas Newsroom through Report for America (RFA). Broussard covers the city of Arlington, with a focus on local and county government accountability.