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December 11, 2023 5 We Watched

New construction, record-setting donation, budget battle highlight UConn President Maric’s first year

PHOTO | CONTRIBUTED/UCONN University of Connecticut President Radenka Maric
Radenka Maric 
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In her first year as president of the University of Connecticut, Radenka Maric oversaw the culmination of a major building construction project and accepted the largest single donation in the school’s history.

UConn’s Board of Trustees picked Maric to be its 17th president on Sept. 28, 2022. She originally joined UConn as a faculty member and researcher in 2010, then rose to vice president for research, innovation and entrepreneurship in 2017.

When she became president, Maric outlined several goals, including making progress on capital projects, building business relationships and partnerships, securing more funding, boosting research efforts and tackling climate change.

As president, Maric oversees a $1.6 billion budget for the university, which has about 32,000 students across campuses in Storrs, Stamford, Hartford, Waterbury and Avery Point.

Capital projects

In June, UConn marked the completion of its new $220 million, 198,000-square-foot “Science 1” building in Storrs. Students and faculty began using it in the spring.

The new building features laboratories for learning and research, such as for mechanical testing, instrumentation, spectroscopy, nuclear magnetic resonance, thermal analysis and X-ray diffraction. The building has wet and dry labs and collaboration spaces.

“The learning and research that will occur in that building will benefit our students, state and society for generations to come,” Maric said.

The university’s new South Campus Residence Hall is on track to open in the fall of 2024, according to Maric. It will be home to more than 650 students and feature a 500-seat dining hall.

UConn plans to build a new home for its School of Nursing, with construction slated to start in fall 2024, and be done for the 2026-27 academic year.

The building will allow UConn to expand its nursing enrollment, helping to meet the high level of demand for nurses, Maric said.

Fundraising and research

Raising money and building relationships with alumni has been another priority for Maric.

A year ago, she said the university’s goal was to raise $130 million in fiscal 2023. UConn surpassed that number, tallying $157.9 million in new gifts and commitments, the fourth record year in a row, Maric said.

The gifts came from more than 22,500 donors worldwide.

In October, UConn received the largest gift in its history, when Elisabeth DeLuca, wife of Subway founder Fred DeLuca, gave $40 million to support the nursing school’s expansion, including construction of the new nursing department building in Storrs.

UConn received $321.5 million in research awards in fiscal year 2023, with the School of Medicine earning the largest portion at $84.2 million, followed by the School of Engineering at $71.9 million.

The university’s research expenditures topped $322 million during the latest fiscal year, up by $65 million since 2019, Maric said.

On the financial front, Maric made headlines in February when she suggested UConn may have to stop playing basketball and hockey games at the XL Center in Hartford as a money-saving measure. The comments, made to a UConn journalism class, followed a budget proposal from Gov. Ned Lamont that Maric said didn’t adequately fund the state’s flagship university.

Maric later backed off the threat, and UConn’s Board of Trustees in June approved a $1.6 billion operating budget that was balanced with $82.2 million in one-time supplemental state funds as well as increases in student tuition and fees.

Business ties

Maric has pledged to increase ties and partnerships with the private sector.

The Future Climate Venture Studio is an example of this effort, she said.

In partnership with R/GA Ventures and CTNext, UConn kicked off its first cohort of six startup companies in early 2023, followed by six more this fall.

The companies are focused on a range of industries, from energy and agriculture to manufacturing and financial services.

Hartford HealthCare and UConn’s School of Medicine have renewed and expanded their affiliation, which aims to ensure there are enough physicians in the healthcare workforce pipeline. More residencies and fellowships will be available for UConn students.

The UConn Technology Incubation Program (TIP) provides startups with access to research resources, facilities, business support services, and a network of investors and entrepreneurs.

TIP participants in fiscal 2023 employed close to 400 workers, raised $106 million in debt and equity funding, and produced $40 million in sales and grant revenue, Maric said.

Climate change efforts

In December 2022, Maric announced plans for UConn to achieve carbon neutrality on campus by 2030, and zero-carbon status by 2040.

UConn has added fuel cell plants, and the Board of Trustees in September approved spending a combined $21.5 million for new fuel cells on campus that will generate electrical and thermal energy. The university has ongoing investments in hydrogen generators and refueling stations.

UConn is also transitioning its existing gasoline-powered vehicle fleet to an all-electric fleet, using either fuel cells or batteries. The university has expanded the availability of electric vehicle chargers this year, and will continue to do so, said Maric, adding that she wants UConn to play a broader leadership role in climate initiatives.

In October, UConn hosted a national Sustainable Clean Energy Summit, featuring speakers such as former White House National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy, Gov. Ned Lamont and Eversource Energy CEO and President Joseph Nolan.

UConn is planning an international hydrogen summit in 2024, as Maric faces pressure from students and others to move quickly on the school’s carbon-neutral goals.

“We continued working in 2023 toward answers to two pivotal questions: how to transition to cleaner campus power sources, and how to efficiently manage carbon emissions within an expedited time frame,” Maric said.

Looking ahead, Maric said a university-wide strategic plan is slated to be made public in 2024.

“It centers on a primary principle: putting students first,” Maric said.

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