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January 9, 2023 5 to Watch

In first full year as UConn president, Maric’s focus is on climate change, fundraising and research

PHOTO | CONTRIBUTED Radenka Maric was named UConn’s 17th president in September.
Radenka Maric
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Newly-minted UConn President Radenka Maric has ambitious goals and plans — related to climate change, business partnerships, research and fundraising — as she leads the state’s flagship university into 2023.

Maric’s first full year as president follows a period of instability within UConn’s top ranks.

Former President Thomas Katsouleas resigned suddenly from the post in the summer of 2021, after less than three years on the job. His interim replacement Andrew Agwunobi left the school about seven months later for an executive role with health insurance company Humana.

Maric joined UConn’s School of Engineering faculty in 2010 and then worked her way up the ranks to interim president before being named the school’s second female president in September. She has quickly become the face of UConn as she continues to tout the university’s research efforts, a key focus area.

UConn’s research expenditures — a key metric in determining a school’s standing as a major research institution — reached $308.1 million in fiscal year 2022, down from $376.6 million a year earlier, when the UConn School of Medicine received a record-setting $40 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

Maric said she still has an ambitious goal of hitting $500 million in annual research funding in the next five to seven years by focusing on grants and other sponsored funding, particularly in international topics such as clean energy, personalized medicine, cancer detection and care, manufacturing innovation and other areas.

She oversees a $1.7-billion budget and 32,146 students, including 23,837 undergraduates across UConn’s Storrs and regional campuses.

Climate change efforts

Maric has been a major proponent of addressing climate change and she recently announced a goal of achieving carbon neutrality on campus by 2030.

Specifics on the vision, goals and targets for various initiatives will be outlined in a comprehensive sustainability action plan to be released in the spring, Maric said. It will address, among other things, how UConn incorporates clean energy to operate its buildings and vehicles, and efforts to increase research-based experiential learning opportunities for students.

“We want to develop a strategic plan and lay down the road map to be carbon neutral by 2030,” the 56-year-old Bosnia native said. “What that means is that we are going to control the greenhouse gasses that we produce and are going to start switching from combustion fuels and move toward alternative fuels like hydrogen, wind and batteries and solar.”

Also in 2023, UConn will push forward with its recently announced multi-year partnership with New York City-based startup accelerator R/GA Ventures and CTNext to identify startups working in the areas of climate change and sustainability

The three organizations are launching the Future Climate Venture Studio to identify and accelerate startups by offering them financial capital and networking connections to business strategists, technologists, designers and consultants.

Mental health

Addressing students’ growing mental health needs will also be a major focus in 2023, Maric said.

Due to the stress and anxiety brought on by the pandemic, demand for mental health services has skyrocketed, she said.

“We need to put more of an emphasis on social work and what we can do to provide students with the appropriate medical services,” Maric said, noting that UConn is allocating more money to address the issue.

“We increased our budget from $12 million to $20 million from 2019 to 2022 to support mental health” initiatives, including additional training for faculty to help them identify and recognize signs of mental health stress, Maric said.

Business community ties

Another priority, Maric said, will be increasing ties and partnerships with the private sector.

Significant new partnerships are in the works with manufacturing giant Raytheon Technologies and Hartford HealthCare, Maric said, adding it was too early to provide further details.

In addition, UConn has partnered with the University of New Haven in a $60-million national research effort — funded by the U.S. Department of Energy — to help local manufacturers reduce their carbon emissions, lower energy costs, and train the next generation of energy-efficient workers.

There will also be a continued focus on growing the school’s startup base, which surpassed a significant milestone in fiscal year 2022.

Startups participating in UConn’s Technology Incubation Program (TIP) in Storrs, Farmington and Stamford raised $183 million in fiscal 2022. That pushed the total funding raised by TIP companies since the program’s 2003 founding to over $1 billion.

There are currently about 71 UConn TIP companies that employ 516 people, including 395 full timers.

Fundraising and alumni

Fundraising is a key part of the job for any university president. UConn’s fiscal 2023 goal is to raise $130 million, Maric said, which would be a new record.

Last fiscal year UConn, for the first time, raised over $100 million. That broke the previous one-year fundraising record of $93.3 million set in fiscal 2021.

Maric said the recent fundraising increases have been due, in part, to a more targeted approach to getting to know and understand the interests of the university’s more than 220,000 alumni. Maric said many alum give to athletics as well as research, scholarships and entrepreneurship programs.

“It’s about building relationships,” Maric said. “We need to look at whether what we are doing is beneficial to our alumni; what do they see as priorities?”

The new year will also bring new facilities and buildings to the main campus.

A new ice hockey arena will debut in January and be home to the men’s and women’s ice hockey teams. The $70-million facility will have a capacity of 2,600 people.

A new Science 1 Building with modern labs and collaboration space is also slated to open this month.

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