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WATCH NOW: Candidate for UND presidency wants to give students confidence

Nagi Naganathan said he sees a lot of himself in the students at UND. As a first-generation college student, he came to the U.S. in 1979 with two suitcases and less than $200. He said he is grateful for the opportunities higher education gave him...

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Nagi Naganathan, one of six candidates for UND's presidency, gives his presentation during Tuesday's open forum at the UND Memorial Union. open forum. Jesse Trelstad/ Grand Forks Herald

Nagi Naganathan said he sees a lot of himself in the students at UND.

As a first-generation college student, he came to the U.S. in 1979 with two suitcases and less than $200. He said he is grateful for the opportunities higher education gave him, something he sees UND doing for students now.

“I read somewhere somebody said, ‘In my life, I'd like to touch a million people,’ and I don’t know if I have enough time left to touch a million, but I'd like to touch tens of thousands of people, and the presidency of this university is a great opportunity to create that impact," he said.

Naganathan, one of six candidates vying for the position of UND president, said he wants students at UND to have a “quiet swagger,” because they’re confident in the education they’re receiving.

“Every student going to Harvard or Yale doesn't become the president of the United States, but every student going to Harvard or Yale thinks he or she could be president of the United States,” he said. “It’s really that mindset."

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Naganathan had the audience laughing at least a dozen times at a forum Tuesday, joking that because he is the youngest of nine children he’s glad his parents gave him a name and not a subscript.

“By the time I came around, I couldn’t do anything new to impress my parents, so I figured I would do something different, so I came to this country,” he said, laughing with the audience.

Naganathan said higher education presidencies are challenging in today’s world of social media and technology, which he thinks is exciting. He said he wants the UND presidency because it’s a position from which he thinks he use to have a positive effect on the world.

Naganathan has served as the dean of the College of Engineering at the University of Toledo in Ohio since 2003, as well as the university’s interim president from 2014 to 2015.

UND Presidential Search Committee Co-chairman Hesham El-Rewini, who is the dean of UND’s College of Engineering and Mines, called Naganathan “one of the most respected deans of engineering in the nation.”

Naganathan said he would like to move UND to the highest ranking published by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, as the school sits one level below that. He would also like to see success in the science and technology fields, collaboration and distinction in teaching, research and economic development.

Naganathan also said he would have an open-door policy, within reason, should he become president.

“The president should not wait for somebody to come to his or her office. The president should go to those venues as well,” he said.

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Naganathan said he would collaborate within the North Dakota University System by never speaking badly of others and by working with other schools, which is part of a the NDUS strategic plan.

He also said a visionary leader is one who can inspire a person to raise their expectations, cares about making a difference and advocates for those invested in the university.

"I think if we can take a leader who is willing to work with his or her stakeholders, we can create a world we haven't even imagined yet, and I hope, I believe, I can be such a leader, and I hope I can have the privilege of serving as your next president," he said.

At a meeting Friday, the Presidential Search Committee will forward at least three candidates to the State Board of Higher Education for consideration.

Former UND President Robert Kelley retired in mid-January and Ed Schafer, a former North Dakota governor, will hold the position in the interim through June 30.

Read the Herald’s coverage of the other five candidates here:

  • University of Illinois-Chicago Healthcare Administration Program Director Jay Noren

  • Boise State University Vice President for Research and Economic Development Mark Rudin

  • George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management Director Mark Kennedy

  • Arizona State University Executive Vice President, Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer Morgan Olsen

Minot State University President Steven Shirley

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Nagi Naganathan, one of six candidates for UND's presidency, answers questions answers questions during Tuesday's open forum at the UND Memorial Union. Jesse Trelstad/ Grand Forks Herald

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