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Susan Herbst, UCONN President


“Coconut with hot fudge, please.”

With that order, I began my interview with Susan Herbst, the first woman president of the University of Connecticut. I had invited Herbst for lunch, but she suggested we meet at The UConn Dairy Bar on the Storrs campus where they’ve been making homemade ice cream since the 1950s and serving it on brisk winter afternoons like on the day we met.

Herbst had the coconut with hot fudge, a child’s size, and I had the toasted almond with hot fudge, also a child’s size. How big are the children who eat these portions? They’re huge! We sat on old-fashioned red metal chairs devouring our sweet treats, surrounded by white Formica tables in a room with a red-and-white checkered floor. Think “Happy Days” meets the Good Humor Man. Throughout our conversation I could feel Herbst’s passion for the university and the pride she feels as its president, especially on her travels when she encounters people dressed in UConn clothing.

“We were skiing in Mt. Washington and we got on the ski lift with a guy wearing a UConn shirt. I was walking down the street in Manhattan and I saw somebody with a big UConn sweatshirt on,” she said.

The university’s 15th president, Herbst is all UConn all the time. In fact, even when I asked her personal questions, she managed to turn the focus back to the school.

Herbst, 49 and the mother of two, was born in New York City and raised in Peekskill, New York. She received a Political Science Degree from Duke University and a Ph.D. in Communication Theory
from The University of Southern California, my alma mater.

She spent 14 years at Northwestern University in Chicago where she advanced from assistant professor to professor and later to department chairwoman. She then served as Dean of Liberal Arts at Temple University in Philadelphia before becoming Provost and Acting President at State University New York at Albany. Next, she headed south to Georgia to become Chief Academic Officer for the
university system.

Herbst is eager to discuss the university’s endeavor to build a bioscience research facility at the Health Center in Farmington that will link to a technology park in Storrs and feature Jackson Labs, a leading genetic research laboratory.

The investment puts UConn in the center of medical research that will allow doctors to use genetic mapping to determine how to treat patients with illnesses such as cancer. “The treatment will
be tailored to who you are in terms of your DNA,” Herbst said. “It’s the long-term future of American medicine.”

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