Ruth Watkins was named President of Strada Impact in January 2021 to apply her innovative approach to education and supporting workforce needs. In leading Strada’s strategic integration of research, philanthropy, thought leadership, and policy, Watkins drives Strada’s systems change efforts so that more individuals can successfully access and complete postsecondary education and training to improve their careers and lives. She will join Strada in April 2021.
Before joining Strada, Watkins built a strong reputation for supporting social change and community workforce needs as the president of the University of Utah, where she increased degree completion rates and research funding, established innovative student funding models, and built strong partnerships with community stakeholders. Uniting the campus as "One U," Watkins’ leadership drove innovation in research, education, and operational efficiency, and addressed grand societal challenges such as mental health and interpersonal violence. Under Watkins’' leadership, the University of Utah cultivated broad and deep connections to communities and was responsive to the state’s workforce needs. During her tenure, the university produced more graduates in high-demand fields than any other state institution, and those graduates secured employment and/or continued on to graduate or professional school at noteworthy rates.
The operational effectiveness and efficiency Watkins developed at Utah translated into excellent and affordable educational experiences for students and timely degree completion, resulting in significant increases in student success as measured by graduation rates and new paths to access education. Faculty and staff earned research funding at record levels — reaching $603 million in 2020 — and steady growth in the quality and quantity of scholarship focused on urgent societal concerns.
Watkins previously served as the University of Utah’s senior vice president for academic affairs for five years before being appointed president. She came to Utah in 2013 from the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. At Illinois, Watkins spent 20 years in leadership and faculty roles, including dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences — where she guided the research, education engagement, financial, and developmental success of approximately 50 academic and research units — and vice provost and associate provost.
Watkins’ commitment to social impact extends beyond her work at Strada. Before joining the organization, she served on its COVID-19 Impact Coalition and is a current member of McKinsey’s pandemic rescue and recovery effort, the Higher Education Task Force. As president at Utah, she serves on the boards of the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation and the Tanner Lectures on Human Values. Watkins is also co-chair of the Research Intensive Committee of the Association of Public & Land-Grant Universities, is a member of the AAU-APLU Presidents’ Working Group on Research Security, and previously served as a member of the APLU’s Council of Academic Affairs Executive Committee.
Watkins graduated with highest honors from the University of Northern Iowa with a bachelor’s degree in speech-language pathology. She earned a master’s degree and a doctorate in child language at the University of Kansas, where she was a National Institutes of Health predoctoral fellow. Her scholarship focuses on communication development and disabilities in young children.