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Meet the University of Utah’s new provost, Mitzi Montoya

During childhood, Mitzi Montoya, the University of Utah’s new senior vice president of academic affairs and provost, moved eight times as her father pursued his career with various defense contractors.

Her final move with her family came in the middle of her junior year of high school, which “was hard,” she said.

While her teenage self might not have appreciated it at the time, Montoya’s parents approached each move as “an amazing adventure,” she said.

“We were a very middle-class family, and one thing we had was lots of love and a huge family on both sides. So it made for an adventure the way my folks always presented it. It was a neat, new place to see,” Montoya said.

Her family’s frequent moves taught her to quickly adapt to new surroundings, a skill that she has leaned on during her career as an educator, working with industry and in higher education administration. Her education and career have taken her from the Great Lakes region — earning both her Bachelor of Science in applied technology and doctorate in business from Michigan State University — to academic appointments in North Carolina, Arizona, Oregon, Washington and New Mexico.

“I love learning and I like exploring new places. I am always amused — a lot of places I’ve lived, I’ve seen more of their states than the people that are from there and they’ve lived there all their lives,” she said.

Next, Montoya will relocate to Utah from Albuquerque, where she is dean of the University of New Mexico’s Anderson School of Management, to become the top academic officer of the state’s flagship university. Her first day at the University of Utah will be Jan. 3.

“I was excited about this opportunity because this is an incredible university that’s on a great trajectory. I’m very excited about being part of building toward President (Taylor) Randall’s vision and also was very attracted because of the strength of the leadership team,” she said.

Montoya said she was also impressed with the university’s high-quality research and teaching.

“But there’s another reason. I love the location. It’s an absolutely beautiful state,” said Montoya, who enjoys outdoor activities such as hiking and biking. She has explored some of Utah’s national parks, singling out Bryce Canyon National Park as a favorite.

“For me, it’s the perfect balance of not only great quality of life, but an excellent university and place to work and great people to work with,” she said.

Montoya has two grown sons, her eldest works for Arizona State University and her younger son will graduate from University of New Mexico this spring.

Montoya briefly served as provost at Washington State University; dean of the College of Business at Oregon State University; and vice president and university dean of entrepreneurship and innovation, as well as dean of the College of Technology and Innovation at Arizona State University.

Randall, in a statement, said Montoya brings extensive experience in leading large academic enterprises with an eye toward innovation and engagement across all academic units.

“Task No. 1 for Dr. Montoya will be to design and engage in a process to meet with every school and college to gain a deeper understanding of their plans and priorities and the issues they face. As she does so, we will gain insights into how to actively participate in and shape the direction of the U. as we become a top 10 public university,” Randall said.

Both Randall and Montoya have led business schools, but Montoya said while their education leadership tracks have some parallels, “we have very different backgrounds in that I started my career as an engineer in research administration.”

Most of Montoya’s work to date has focused on supporting “a creative and entrepreneurial academic environment across all units. So I think we’re very different. My hope is, of course, that in my work with each of the academic units and leaders in the faculty, that I’ll demonstrate that my goal is to help each of them be excellent and to help them in a way that’s appropriate for their academic discipline,” she said.

She counts creative problem-solving and a solid understanding of resource management as strengths “and that’s a value to everyone no matter what their academic discipline is.”

Randall, in a letter to the campus, wrote that his academic career has largely been spent rising through the ranks at the U. He said he welcome’s Montoya’s “extensive experience and perspective gained at other top institutions.”

Prior to leading UNM’s Anderson School of Management, Montoya was provost at Washington State University for two months. She stepped away from the position shortly after taking the job, which she calls “a challenging decision to make and it was one of the most significant learning experiences in my leadership journey.”

Long story short, it wasn’t a good fit, Montoya said.

“While it’s hard to make a decision to make that change, what I can tell you is that for me it was important because we have one life, one career, and one opportunity to use the energy and the gifts that we have to to do right and good for others and that was not a good fit for me,” she said.

University of New Mexico provided Montoya more opportunities to learn and develop her administrative skills, “especially to work at a minority serving institution, apply my skills there and make a positive difference, which I believe I did,” she said.

Montoya views her new position “as a much better fit, as was UNM,” she said.

Many challenges lie ahead for higher education nationally and for the University of Utah, specifically, Montoya said.

As the university experiences a growth trajectory, “we clearly need to make sure that we are providing housing to meet the needs of students and that’s an important specific challenge here.”

Nationally there is a narrative questioning the value of higher education, she said.

“That’s a challenge because we provide enormous, important and fundamental value from a societal perspective in that we are continuing to need to educate the future workforce to continue to advance our economy and create opportunities for good jobs and reduce inequities in income and reduce inequities in health care and all the things that we know that education, higher education are correlated with,” she said.

Beyond that, higher education plays a critical role in helping to address the nation’s and the world’s challenges, “everything from climate change, which affects environmental challenges, which are real, and here, we also have water challenges in the state and Mountain West, and everything to social challenges and economic challenges. That’s what great research helps us do. That’s how we will solve those problems together.”


Mitzi Montoya, the University of Utah’s new provost, poses for a portrait at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Friday, Nov. 11, 2022.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Montoya follows Martell Teasley, who has served as the U.’s interim senior vice president for academic affairs since January 2022. He will return to the university’s faculty and resume his role as dean of the College of Social Work after a yearlong sabbatical.

Teasley led the university’s academic campus through a presidential transition and the COVID-19 pandemic.

He oversaw enrollment of the U.’s largest freshman class; led the creation of new and innovative degrees and certificates; and managed the renewal of the university’s seven-year accreditation, among other accomplishments. 

Teasley is lead editor and author of a collection of essays published by Oxford University Press, “Social Work and the Grand Challenge of Eliminating Racism: Concepts, Theory and Evidence Based Approaches,” scheduled for release in April 2023.

Randall said in a statement that he feels “a sense of urgency to accelerate the U.’s momentum. … We can’t rest on our laurels or stymie progress as we move through this transition. I’ve asked Drs. Montoya and Teasley to team up, not only to ensure a smooth transition, but to double down on our quest to inspire student success, innovate to improve the human condition and most importantly, impact the lives of every Utahn.”

Randall has identified several initiatives to help the University of Utah achieve national recognition as a top-tier public research university:

  • The launch of engaging first-year experiences for students.
  • A transition from a commuter campus to a community campus, including a more than doubling of on-campus student housing.
  • Investment in degree completion.
  • Recruitment of first-generation students.

Progress toward a goal of becoming a Hispanic-serving institution.

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