An eminent psychologist and scholar who currently serves as provost and senior vice president at Oklahoma State University has been named the 24th president of the University of Wyoming.
Robert J. Sternberg was offered a contract by a unanimous vote of the UW Board of Trustees Tuesday afternoon (Feb. 26) and has accepted the position. He will take office July 1, succeeding retiring President Tom Buchanan.
“I’m thrilled to have this opportunity to come to Wyoming and help the university continue moving toward its goal of becoming even more widely recognized as one of the top land-grant institutions in the country,” Sternberg says. “Of all the places in the country, Wyoming is the one where my wife and I most wanted to go.”
“We believe Dr. Sternberg is a great fit for UW and Wyoming, and that he will build on the excellent leadership provided by President Buchanan,” says Board of Trustees President Dave Bostrom. “Collectively, we’ve agreed that this is the most important decision we will make during our tenure on the Board of Trustees, and every action we have taken has been made to ensure a successful outcome to this process.”
The terms of Sternberg’s contract are still being finalized, but it will be a three-year contract with an annual base salary of $425,000.
At Oklahoma State, Sternberg has served as the university’s chief academic officer, with oversight of its various colleges and campuses comprising about 35,000 students and 1,600 tenure-stream faculty members. He also is vice chairman of the board of the OSU Center for Innovation and Economic Development, which fosters start-up companies based upon innovation by faculty members. He notes that Oklahoma State and UW are both land-grant institutions in states where the energy industry plays a key role, and he believes his experiences at Oklahoma State will help him in his new post at UW.
“Oklahoma State and Wyoming are probably two of the most similar universities in the country. Both value and appreciate the deeper meaning of the land-grant mission, and that’s something I fully embrace,” he says. “What is exciting to me is that UW is an institution that wants to not only educate students in the abstract, but truly to prepare them for the challenges they face when they go out into the job market — and to educate future leaders who will make a positive, meaningful and enduring difference to the state and the world.”
Sternberg’s priorities for UW include a focus on student retention and graduation; hiring and developing outstanding faculty; education outreach and economic development efforts around the state; collaborations with business and industry, government and community organizations; promotion of the arts and humanities; enhancement of student life; development of ethical leadership; financial controls; and broad participation in and transparency of university governance.
“As president, I see my job as, first and foremost, forming, developing and strengthening relationships with faculty, staff, students, alumni, diverse donors, legislators, business leaders and other key stakeholders in the state that will lead to even greater success,” Sternberg says. “My style of leadership is to help in posing problems, and then to let stakeholders collaborate in solving the problems.”
Bostrom says the trustees are confident that Sternberg will step in and provide strong leadership at a critical juncture in UW’s history, with a number of significant efforts already under way — including a project to lift the College of Engineering and Applied Science to “tier 1” status, as directed by the Legislature, and to continue building programs focused on research and workforce preparation in collaboration with the energy industry.
“He fully understands the relationship and importance of energy of all kinds to the state and the university,” Bostrom says. “He will be fully involved in the efforts to achieve the goals set forth.”
Sternberg says he’s looking forward to traveling around Wyoming to become more familiar with its people and issues facing the state. He has a particular interest in helping students better prepare for and succeed in college, and he wants to strengthen UW’s connection to the entire state education system — from preschool through K-12 schools to community colleges.
Sternberg notes that he’s a first-generation college student whose parents didn’t finish high school. He was able to attend Yale University as an undergraduate because he earned a National Merit scholarship and received other assistance from the university. He graduated summa cum laude from Yale with a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1972.
Sternberg received a Ph.D. in psychology from Stanford University in 1975, then returned to Yale and served in various capacities, including professor of psychology, education and management, and director of graduate studies in psychology. He became dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at Tufts University in 2005, leaving that position in 2010 to take his current job at Oklahoma State.
Before and after entering university administration, Sternberg achieved prominence in the field of psychology. He is best known as a psychologist for his work on enhancing the teaching-learning process.
“I believe that if students are not learning, teachers are not really teaching,” he says.
At Oklahoma State and Tufts, Sternberg directed efforts to improve teaching and student success, and those projects boosted student retention rates. He also has continued teaching one course per semester as a dean and provost to maintain a connection with students — and because he enjoys teaching.
Sternberg and his wife, Karin, have 2-year-old triplets. He also has two adult children. Mrs. Sternberg is a native of Germany who also holds a Ph.D. in psychology, as well as a master’s in business administration. The two met when she was on a fellowship to the U.S., and she has a particular interest in encouraging internationalization through study-abroad programs and exchanges.
The family loves the outdoors and is looking forward to hiking and skiing in Wyoming’s mountains and open spaces, Sternberg says.
“For us, Wyoming is a dream come true,” he says.
Arrangements are being made for Sternberg to visit the UW campus in the near future.