University Affairs

USU Announces New Appointments to President's Leadership Team

President Elizabeth R. Cantwell has announced two new additions to her leadership team to help Utah State fulfill its mission as a 21st century land-grant university.

The new appointees will step into their roles on March 1.

“I hope you will join me in offering hearty congratulations to these individuals who will be of tremendous service and support in our university community,” Cantwell wrote in announcement of the new hires.

John O'Neil

John O’Neil has been named vice president for operational strategy and special adviser to President Cantwell.

O'Neil was formerly vice president of research at the University of Arizona, also a land-grant university. There he successfully led research administration, research development, and secure research operations for the university, which ranks in the top 20 for research and development expenditures.

Prior to joining the University of Arizona in 2019, O’Neil spent more than 15 years in various leadership roles in the National Security Directorate Oak Ridge National Laboratory. An exceptional contributor to national security, he actively advises and consults with the U.S. Government on critical and sensitive matters.

Before Oak Ridge, O’Neil spent seven years in research leadership at Virginia Tech, leading federal agency relations, research development, and corporate and foundation relations while also serving on the Vice Provost’s Council.

“Dr. O’Neil is a proven leader and lifelong advocate for educational advancement and economic development resulting from discovery and innovation, as well as for impactful and socially aware STEM organizations and people,” Cantwell wrote. “He brings to the USU ecosystem deep experience working with exceptional R1 land-grant research universities and members of the Association of American Universities, and he actively contributes to thought leadership.”

O’Neil completed his Ph.D. in education research at Virginia Tech in 1992 after earning a bachelor’s degree in agricultural economics and public affairs at Cornell University in 1990. He has received various meritorious awards for excellence in research, university and laboratory operations during his career.

Kerri R. Davidson

Kerri R. Davidson has been named vice president of institutional affairs and Cantwell's chief of staff, also effective March 1.

Introducing Davidson in the announcement, Cantwell wrote: “She is dedicated to the advancement of higher education and brings over 25 years of experience successfully translating visionary ideas into strategic, actionable plans through dynamic organizational leadership, business operations, and enterprise development.”

Davidson is joining USU from Arizona State University, where she served as the first executive director and chief of staff of the ASU Public Enterprise. ASU is the largest R1 university in the U.S., and Davidson concurrently led its Office of the Executive Vice President and served as chief operating officer.

Davidson is a native Utahn and a first-generation college graduate. She began her career at ASU a decade and a half ago at the Biodesign Institute, a premiere scientific research entity. During her ASU tenure she successfully advanced the mission with deep focus on strategic business growth, operational and administrative optimization, and institutional advancement, as well as leading national and international projects, and corporate partnership development.

She was named a 2023 Champion of Change in the state of Arizona by Az Business, recognizing “leadership, visionary thinking and philanthropy.” In 2021, Davidson was named the 2021 Most Admired Leader by the Phoenix Business Journal for “integrity, values, vision and commitment to excellence.”

Davidson earned a master’s degree in healthcare innovation from ASU in 2015 and a master’s in organizational leadership from Northern Arizona University in 2019, building on a bachelor’s in business management.

Kerri R. Davidson

John O'Neil


Amanda DeRito
Associate VP of Strategic Communications
University Marketing and Communications


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