Seth Bodnar will be the University of Montana's next president.
According to a Tuesday afternoon email from Clayton Christian, commissioner of higher education, Bodnar will replace Sheila Stearns, the current interim president.
Stearns replaced Royce Engstrom after Engstrom stepped down from the role in December 2016.
Bodnar will take over on Jan. 1, 2018.
Bodnar, 38, said he will draw on his experience as a leader to help the University move through its enrollment struggles and into the next chapter.
“It’s a tremendous honor to join a great community,” he said.
Bodnar, a Rhodes and Truman Scholar, former Army Ranger, Green Beret commander and senior executive at the General Electric Company, doesn’t have any academic leadership experience. But he said his years as a leader will help guide the existing team of dedicated faculty, staff and administrators at UM.
“We already have a terrific group of deans and strong leaders across the faculty and the staff and the student body,” he said. “So the president’s job is to essentially harness that energy and enable everybody across that campus, from faculty to staff to students, to reach their greatest potential. That’s my job as a leader, and I’m really excited to do it.”
Christian said Wednesday that Bodnar fits the profile of an ideal president as a "transformational leader" created by the presidential search committee.
"I think people find him honest and engaging," Christian said.
Bodnar said he has acquired specific skills in his time in the army and G.E. that will translate to being an effective leader at UM.
“In the U.S. Army, that meant helping an organization transition from more of a traditional mindset to one in which we worked with the local populace to bring stability,” he said. “In G.E., that meant adapting a 125-year-old industrial company to compete with startups in the digital age.”
UM is in the midst of a six-year enrollment decline and consequent budget crunch, and after former president Royce Engstrom’s mid-year resignation, the University has lacked stable leadership and administrators. The academic provost and budgeting director are both held by interims and will be filled by people chosen by Bodnar.
Bodnar said he doesn’t have specific plans for boosting enrollment or student retention at the moment, but they will be a top priority of his when he assumes the role of president. He also said he will draw on conclusions reached by the Strategic Planning Coordinating Council.
“Addressing [enrollment] requires not just making sure that we attract great students, but that we retain great students. That would be a top priority of mine. Understanding and meeting students where they are.”
Christian said Bodnar's lack of detailed plans is not a concern.
"I don't know if any of the candidates spoke to specific plans," he said. "I would be more concerned if he thought he knew all the answers from the outside."
Christian said any new president would have to be on campus engaging with the community before they could formulate specifics.
Bodnar has three children with his wife Chelsea Bodnar. She said they’re all meeting up now to plan the move to Missoula, where Chelsea is originally from.
“I grew up in Missoula, I went to Hellgate High, I took classes at UM when I was in high school,” she said. “I’m thrilled, and we’re really excited to come home. I’m really excited for what Seth will bring to my home town.”
Christian said he is currently in talks with Bodnar about when Bodnar can return to the UM campus and start forming a leadership team. It may be as early as next week.
This story will be updated.