Utah State University was founded in 1888 (as the Agricultural College of Utah) under the Morrill Land-Grant Colleges Act. Two years later, the infrastructure was set up and our first president, Jeremiah W. Sanborn, took the helm of the institution. Since then, the university has fulfilled its mission to make quality education accessible throughout the state, thanks to the guidance of our fantastic leaders.
16. Noelle E. Cockett
Noelle E. Cockett began her official tenure as the 16th president — and first woman to take the role — of Utah State University in January 2017. President Cockett previously served USU as executive vice president and provost, vice president for Extension, dean of the College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences, and director of the Utah Agriculture Experiment Station. She has built a distinguished career in sheep genomics research and continues to maintain an active research program. As president, she prioritized the university’s mission of learning, discovery, and engagement, including promoting inclusivity and respect on campus and increasing diversity. Her leadership resulted in USU becoming an R1 Carnegie-recognized institution, plus the creation of the College of Veterinary Medicine, the Inclusion Center, the Latinx Cultural Center, and the Division for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.
15. Stan L. Albrecht
Stan L. Albrecht began his teaching career at Utah State University before he returned to his alma mater, Brigham Young University. At BYU, he held various positions, including department head, dean, academic vice president, and associate provost. After working in research and as the associate director at the University of Florida's College of Medicine, he returned to USU — first as the dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, then as provost for three years before assuming the role of president. Albrecht took office and facilitated improvements to all of USU’s Statewide Campuses — including the merger with the College of Eastern Utah (now USU Eastern). He successfully implemented the first university-wide fundraising campaign which brought in more than $500 million. He was also instrumental in the Aggies joining the Mountain West Conference and the creation of the Caine College of the Arts.
14. Kermit L. Hall
Academics and recruitment were key components of Kermit Hall’s presidency at Utah State. He worked to lower the faculty-student ratio, attract and retain the best instructors, and conducted the cheekily named “Road Scholars” faculty trip each year in which instructors would tour the state to meet with prospective students. These efforts paid off with a substantial increase in enrollments — particularly in first year students. Originally from Akron, Ohio, Hall studied constitutional history, earning his undergraduate degree from the University of Akron, his master’s from Syracuse University, his Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota, and a law degree from Yale University. After four years at USU, Hall became president of the State University of New York (SUNY) in Albany.
13. George H. Emert
Before he moved to Utah, George Emert taught at the University of Arkansas and was later the executive president at Alabama’s land-grant Auburn University. His presidency at Utah State started out with typing a list of 40 goals he wanted to accomplish before he stepped down. By the time he was ready to go back to teaching, only one goal was left unfinished — establishing a university-wide fundraising campaign. But his other efforts were no small feats: the amount of scholarships awarded quadrupled, endowments grew tenfold, and the institution’s contracts and grants nearly doubled. The Tennessee-native was also a champion of intercollegiate athletics and established Alumni Association chapters in each of Utah’s 29 counties, plus five additional states and four countries.
12. Stanford Cazier
Unlike many of his predecessors, Stanford Cazier had not studied agriculture or agriculture-related disciplines prior to becoming president of the university. But this didn’t hold him back. The former history department head was known for engaging and animated lectures, particularly of the Civil War. Under his leadership, enrollment continued to grow, and new buildings, degrees, and programs were built to meet demands. He had been an assistant to President Glen Taggart before helming Chico State College — where he was instrumental in the school’s absorption into the California State University system. He returned to USU in 1979 and remained a professor for five years after stepping down as president (though he continued to occasionally teach classes as a professor emeritus).
11. Glen L. Taggart
Born in Lewiston, just a few miles north of the university, Glen L. Taggart got his undergraduate degree at USU before he worked as a rural sociologist for the U.S. Bureau of Agricultural Economics and continued to get his doctorate from University of Wisconsin. He had also worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and traveled the world to 38 countries — this experience would lend itself to his time as university president, as international programs were an important aspect of his leadership. His presidency was remarkable for his decision to decentralize budgets and programming, giving deans and department heads more control over their areas. He was also known for diplomacy with students, despite the era’s multiple protests and civil unrest.
10. Daryl Chase
Utah State experienced another time of rapid growth under Daryl Chase’s leadership. During this time, the school’s name changed from the Utah State Agricultural College to the Utah State University of Agriculture and Applied Sciences (which was shortened rather quickly to its current form). Enrollment increased by 250%, the international student population grew by more than 800%, faculty positions doubled, and the number of graduate (especially doctoral) degrees awarded exploded. In his final year as president, the beginnings of Utah State’s current statewide campuses took root with centers in Roosevelt and Moab opening. Chase, who’d modestly claimed he expected to last only one year in the role, attributed his success to those around him and the spirit of collaboration at the institution.
9. Henry A. Dixon
Prior to helming Utah State Agricultural College, Henry A. Dixon was president of Weber State University. Dixon was a lifelong promoter and practitioner of teamwork, even going so far as to designate the university as a partner of the common welfare in his inaugural address. This ideology of community and academic partnership has been a tenet of the institution’s mission ever since. He only led the institution for one year before he resigned to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives, where he was one of the congressmen in support of the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960.
8. Louis L. Madsen
Louis L. Madsen made a name for himself in the world of animal husbandry and for being warm, patient, and well loved by the student body. Under his leadership, the Agricultural College saw a new union building, a reinvigorated athletic program — which had been suspended during the World Wars — and the beginning of a new agricultural science building. In his first year, the university established its first international program in Iran. He clashed with the governor and university’s board of trustees and was ultimately fired, which led to a caravan of students protesting the decision at the state capitol.
7. Franklin S. Harris
Under President E.G. Peterson, Utah State nearly doubled in size. And following World War II, enrollments were increasing. This left former BYU President Franklin S. Harris with the task of remodeling and funding new buildings to house the growing student population as the university’s reach expanded. Similarly, Harris became one of the first presidents to travel abroad in his duties, including to Greece and Syria. He left the university to work on President Harry S. Truman’s Point IV program, establishing an exchange of agricultural knowledge — and later, students — with Iran that continued for decades.
6. Elmer George “E.G.” Peterson
The Influenza Pandemic of 1918. World Wars I and II. The Great Depression. A name change from Agricultural College of Utah (UAC) to Utah State Agricultural College (USAC). The birth of Aggie Ice Cream. Elmer George “E.G.” Peterson was not only the longest presiding president of the institution (29 years), but also led during some of the most infamous points in history. The Plain City-native was also the youngest president to take the helm of the university — both in USU history and throughout the country at the time — when he was only 34 years old. The university saw growth in all divisions, including doubling in campus size. He returned to the university as interim president for six months in 1953.
5. John A. Widtsoe
Originally from Norway, John A. Widtsoe immigrated to Logan, Utah, where he attended the Brigham Young College before continuing his education at Harvard. He returned to Cache Valley to teach at Utah State (then the Agricultural College) and direct the Agricultural Experiment Station. He also helped further early Extension efforts through his work with farmers to better utilize water and irrigation techniques in the state. While a professor at Brigham Young University, he was a key player in the founding of the College of Biology and Agriculture. He returned to Logan to become president of the Agricultural College and was extremely popular among students.
4. William J. Kerr
William J. Kerr was born in Richmond, Utah — just a few miles north of the Logan campus where he’d serve as president. Prior to taking office at Utah State, Kerr was the first official president of Brigham Young College in Logan (up to his tenure, the head of the college was referred to as the principal). Kerr was most known for expanding the academic offerings at UAC (as USU was known), well beyond its agricultural roots as he sought to merge the college with the University of Utah. However, legislators limited subjects to be taught to agriculture, mechanic arts, and home economics to avoid a merger as well as competition with the programs at the University of Utah. He left USU after deciding to lead the land-grant Oregon Agricultural College.
3. Joseph “Jay” M. Tanner
Joseph M. Tanner grew up in rural Payson, Utah, but had long appreciated and advocated for furthering education. In fact, after graduating from Brigham Young University in Provo (then the Brigham Young Academy), he stayed on for six years teaching math. He eventually moved to Logan and helmed the Brigham Young College before furthering his own education at Harvard. He returned to Utah as president of the Agricultural College, as well as serving as an education commissioner in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
2. Joshua H. Paul
Born in Salt Lake City, Joshua H. Paul grew up in and around agriculture. From herding cows in his childhood to working at a brewery in Salt Lake, he gained a deep appreciation of education. He attended the University of Utah (while it was called the University of Deseret) for five years. From 1892-1894, he served as the fourth principal of Brigham Young College in Logan. Following his tenure there, he become the second president of Utah State University. His work on the Cazier Bill laid the groundwork for Extension (which would be officially founded within two decades).
1. Jeremiah W. Sanborn
It took two years to get the groundwork in place for students to attend the Agricultural College of Utah (as USU was initially named) after it was established. Originally from New Hampshire, Jeremiah W. Sanborn had gradually moved west as he made a name for himself in agriculture and higher education — including work as the farm superintendent at the New Hampshire College of Agriculture and the Mechanic Arts, and dean of the agricultural department at the University of Missouri. He came to Utah to direct the Utah Agriculture Experiment Station, housed on campus, and became the inaugural president of the university.