Ruth V. Watkins, PhD, was the 16th president of the University of Utah and the first woman to hold the position in the institution’s 168-year history. Prior to her appointment, she served as senior vice president for academic affairs. As president, Watkins unified the university’s health sciences and main campuses under a “One U” mindset to facilitate interdisciplinary collaborations that address societal challenges. Her signature initiatives focused on student access, degree completion, and advancing the success and impact of the U as a top-tier research university.
Under Watkins’ leadership, six-year graduation rates rose from about 50% to over 70%. She oversaw record-breaking enrollment and significant changes in the makeup of the student body, including new students from first-generation families and underrepresented groups. Watkins propelled efforts to join the prestigious Association of American Universities, placing the U among the 65 leading research universities in North America. Research funding and donor contributions increased significantly during her time in office, allowing the U to achieve a capital campaign goal of $2 billion two years ahead of its target date and a record $602 million in sponsored research.
Prior to joining the University of Utah, Watkins spent 20 years in leadership and faculty roles at the University of Illinois-Champaign. She graduated with highest honors from the University of Northern Iowa with a bachelor’s degree in speech-language pathology. She earned a master’s degree and a doctorate in child language at the University of Kansas. After leaving the U, Watkins assumed a position as president of Strada Impact, where she drives Strada Education Network’s national research, philanthropy, policy and thought leadership to improve students’ access to college, degree completion and career connections. Watkins received an honorary doctorate degree from the U in 2022.