Getting to Know Incoming UConn Interim President Radenka Maric: ‘For Me, The Students Are Everything’

Maric brings experience in mentoring, private industry, and international scholarship to new role

Incoming Interim UConn President Radenka Maric in her lab with graduate research assistant Alanna Gado, left, and Ph.D. student Jiale Xing (Peter Morenus / UConn Photo).

Incoming Interim UConn President Radenka Maric in her lab with graduate research assistant Alanna Gado, left, and Ph.D. student Jiale Xing (UConn Photo).

As UConn’s incoming interim president, Radenka Maric brings a background of talents and interests that are as multi-faceted as the University itself, but with the same cardinal commitment to place students at the center of its efforts.

Maric is UConn’s vice president for research, innovation, and entrepreneurship, and has been a faculty member and researcher since 2010 at the University, where she also is a Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor. She will serve as interim president starting Feb. 1 to succeed Dr. Andrew Agwunobi, who is leaving for private industry.

Maric’s accomplishments could fill many pages: She holds multiple patents, has been elected to prestigious professional organizations, published hundreds of scholarly works, received more than $40 million in research grants, and is fluent in four languages with a working knowledge of others.

But what has always been most important to her is the process of mentoring students and ensuring their wellbeing, helping them discover their academic passions and create professional and personal lives in which they, too, make their mark on the next generation as mentors.

“For me, the students are everything. That is very personal to me and very important,” Maric says. “I want them to know that whatever struggles they may have, the University is here to support them and to prepare them with the skills they will need in order to succeed.”

The UConn Board of Trustees is scheduled to appoint Maric as interim president during its Jan. 26 meeting, with a start date of Feb. 1. She will work in tandem with outgoing Interim President Andrew Agwunobi until his departure on Feb. 21, and will serve in the presidency throughout the planned search for UConn’s next permanent president.

“I’m truly honored and humbled,” she says of her selection as the interim leader. “As former President Susan Herbst says, the institution is much larger than any one of us and it is a privilege to be asked to serve.”

Maric says the first order of business will be working with others throughout UConn to return to in-person learning on its campuses as planned in early February, doing so in the most safe and healthy manner possible for its students, faculty, and staff amid ongoing COVID concerns.

“It is equally important to ensure the well being of our faculty and staff so they can ensure a successful semester,” she says. “We will continue to all work together to find creative ways in this uncertain time to continue our support of our students, our community, and our state.”

As someone who has mentored scores of students and whose three children graduated from UConn, Maric says the work is deeply personal and fulfilling.

Maric was born and raised in the former Yugoslavia and earned her bachelor’s degree at the University of Belgrade in Serbia before moving to Japan to earn her master’s and Ph.D. in materials science and energy at Kyoto University.

Her time in Japan was critical not only professionally, but also personally. She was studying at Kyoto University when Yugoslavia broke up in the early 1990s, seeing her scholarship disappear and eventually finding herself with so few resources that even affording food became a challenge.

But with the support of her mentor, she was able to overcome that challenge; in fact, she and that mentor stay in touch with regular emails. The experience was so impactful that she has committed to assisting students herself as well; she has personally established more than $100,000 in fellowship funds through the UConn Foundation to assist students.

We will continue to all work together to find creative ways in this uncertain time to continue our support of our students, our community, and our state. — Radenka Maric

“Giving to the university has been very important and very personal to me because I do know what it is like to be without funds. I was one of those students.

“And I now also know how much joy and pleasure one can get from giving (them) support financially as well as through your time and mentorship,” Maric says, noting that encouraging philanthropy will be an important focus of her time as interim president.

Having lived and worked in several countries, her international experience also will be a boon to UConn, which has a strong focus on preparing its students to live and compete in a global economy and to celebrate other cultures and traditions.

Like UConn itself, Maric has multi-faceted interests and skills.

She came to UConn as a faculty member in 2010 after an accomplished career in private industry and research. In addition to being vice president for research, innovation, and entrepreneurship, Maric is the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund Professor of Sustainable Energy in the Department of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering and Department of Materials Science and Engineering.

After graduation from Kyoto University, she stayed to work in Japan for about a decade before moving to Atlanta to work for a fuel cell research company in 2001. She transitioned in 2004 to become a group leader and program manager for Institute for Fuel Cell Innovation in Canada, then joined UConn in 2010 as a faculty member in the departments of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering, and Materials Science and Engineering.

She is an elected member of the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and has also earned many other professional honors and designations for her work.

Maric has admirers at all levels, from first-year UConn students fresh out of their high schools to the hallways of the state Capitol.

Gov. Ned Lamont has praise for Maric, noting he had appointed her to serve on the Connecticut Innovations Board of Directors because of “her incredible contributions to improve and strengthen UConn’s prowess in research.”

“UConn is incredibly fortunate to have the talented and unflappable Dr. Radenka Maric to steer UConn on an interim basis,” Lamont says. “Our Huskies will remain in good hands.”

While scientific pursuits and mentorship are at the root of her academic and research careers, Maric has personal pursuits as diverse as the University’s portfolio itself, particularly in humanities realms.

She is a talented painter and pianist, an amateur chef, and speaks four languages fluently (Croatian, English, German, and Japanese), with a working familiarity with Italian. She also designs and makes much of her wardrobe, first inspired by receiving a sewing machine as a birthday gift when she was a child.

“My philosophy about life is that we should explore who we are and discover ourselves,” she says, noting she was always strong in science but also liked music, and did not feel she had to give up one for the other.

“Everybody has talents to discover as part of knowing who you are. I support every student in learning who you are – through your whole life, you learn,” she says.

“When I compete, I don’t compare against other people. I compete against myself,” she adds. “I ask myself, ‘Am I, Radenka, better today than I was one month ago or even yesterday? Did I learn something new?’ You have to strive for excellence and that is what I teach my students. That is what I will continue to do to serve UConn.”