THIS SPRING, Jennifer Cowley became the 10th president of The University of Texas at Arlington and the first woman ever to lead the institution. She is also professor of public affairs and planning in the College of Architecture, Planning, and Public Affairs. Before joining UT Arlington, Dr. Cowley served as provost and vice president for academic affairs at the University of North Texas and in various leadership positions at The Ohio State University, including vice provost for capital planning and regional campuses, associate dean of the College of Engineering, and head of city and regional planning. She is a fellow of the American Institute of Certified Planners and an alumna of Texas A&M University and the University of North Texas.
Welcome back to Arlington! What is it like to return to the city you grew up in?
It’s super exciting! I’m finding places that I loved when I was growing up and new places to explore. In particular, it’s amazing just seeing how much the UTA campus has changed along with the area around it, and seeing how the downtown area is becoming much more vibrant. I think all of these changes have added to the appeal for prospective students and potential faculty and staff to consider UTA. I’m really looking forward to getting to know all the people in the community.
What experiences did you have with UTA growing up?
One of my first experiences with UTA was going to sleepaway orchestra camp, and back then, it was the most exciting thing ever. It was really, really fun to have those early experiences of connecting to a university—of getting to eat in a student union, play tennis, and of course perform on a big stage. When the opportunity arose, I had my son enjoy these same opportunities at UTA through summer camps. It’s such a great part of the learning experience to have the convenience, benefits, and opportunities of a vibrant, top-tier research university right in my hometown.
What made you want to take on the role of president of UT Arlington?
UTA has been on my radar for quite some time. I saw it as a university on the rise, as a place with serious aspirations, a belief in its potential, and a commitment to diversity and inclusion. When the presidency opened up, I thought it could be the right time for me to join the UTA community. And, you know, the stars aligned, and I’m just excited to get to have the opportunity to lead this wonderful Tier 1 institution.
What are your first priorities as president?
The No. 1 priority is to fill a number of leadership vacancies, and I am confident we’re going to find some great team members who will be a perfect fit for us. I am also very much looking forward to getting to know the campus community and engaging with our students, faculty, staff, and our alumni. Together, we will be able to foster an inclusive culture that improves upon the opportunities for our students’ success, accelerate UTA’s research excellence, and build upon UTA’s relationships throughout the DFW Metroplex—one of the nation’s fastest-growing and economically thriving metropolitan areas.
With your background in city planning, do you see parallels between your expertise in that field and the skills you’ll be using in your role as president of UTA?
Absolutely. City planners are trained to be systems thinkers, and when you think about the complexities of a campus, campuses are a lot like small cities. As a planner and builder, I have a unique ability to quickly assess the landscape and, in collaboration with the diversity of stakeholders, figure out together where we need to go and, more importantly, how we will get there.
How do you see UTA’s role within Arlington and in our region? How might that role evolve going forward?
UTA is an important part of Arlington and North Texas. We have excellent relationships and collaborations in the city on a number of fronts, and I look forward to continuing to strengthen those. Beyond Arlington, if you consider the population of Dallas-Fort Worth, we are bigger than many states in this country. How much we’re growing is just phenomenal, and I want to make sure we’re taking advantage of that growth. Continuing to expand our impact in Fort Worth and the surrounding communities will certainly be a priority.
What can you share with us about your family and/or life outside of work?
I have a husband named Jon, a 17-year-old son named Nathan, and a pet chinchilla named Chinchi who has been in our family for about eight years now. Our family is very much into Lego-building. My husband and son are into Star Wars and some of the other action sets. It is probably no surprise that as a city planner, I like the city sets. UTA