Dr. Fumiko Hoeft, one of UConn’s preeminent researchers and director of its Brain Imaging Research Center (BIRC), has been selected to serve as interim director of the UConn Waterbury campus.
Dr. Hoeft was introduced Thursday at an event on campus with President Radenka Maric, Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary, UConn Board of Trustees member Thomas Ritter, Interim Provost Anne D’Alleva, state and city officials, and members of the local business community.
Dr. Hoeft is among the nation’s top researchers in studying the brain’s function to better understand the neural mechanisms of brain development, literacy, dyslexia, and related issues.
She is also deeply involved in mentoring students, community outreach, promoting diversity and inclusion, and service to the University.
She said Thursday she was especially honored and excited to accept the interim director appointment because of the strong sense of community at UConn Waterbury and in the city itself, and because its diversity brings such strength and opportunity for partnerships, economic growth, and social entrepreneurship.
“My lifelong passion has been to create transformative changes, one person at a time, together with the community,” Dr. Hoeft said at Thursday’s event.
“In a recent conversation about the transition to Waterbury, my close friend told me, ‘Fumiko, I have literally never seen you this excited before.’ This is how ecstatic I am about this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work with such talented communities at UConn’s Waterbury campus and the city,” she told the event’s guests.
“I have never seen such a tremendously strong community that has a vision with big dreams. Your passion has been contagious.”
She takes over the position with the retirement of Angela Brightly, whose 35 years with UConn include serving as interim director since longtime Campus Director William Pizzuto retired earlier this year. The University has launched the search process for the permanent appointee.
The Waterbury campus, located in the heart of downtown, has more than 1,000 undergraduate students and a strong contingent of faculty with multidisciplinary expertise and dedication to the University’s academic, research, and service missions.
UConn Waterbury’s scope and reach have also been expanding through initiatives such as the recently announced Waterbury Promise financial aid partnership, and the launch of a well-received major in allied health sciences.
Dr. Hoeft joined UConn in 2018 as director of BIRC and professor of psychological sciences, coming from the Weill Institute for Neurosciences at the University of California-San Francisco (UCSF).
In her time at UConn, she has been a prolific researcher and exemplary member of the UConn community, including being recognized with the 2021 Innovative Scholarship Award in recognition of extraordinary service to the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences (CLAS) and her students.
“Dr. Fumiko Hoeft is not just a world-renowned researcher in the field of neuroscience; she is a mentor and guide to undergraduate and graduate students alike,” President Maric said. “And, as director of the Brain Imaging Research Center, she has mastered the role of administrator in an academic setting. She embodies UConn’s commitment as a public university to the values of teaching, research, and service.”
In addition to her professorship in psychological sciences and position as BIRC director, Dr. Hoeft has appointments as professor of computer science, mathematics, neuroscience, psychiatry, pediatrics, and educational psychology at UConn.
“She’s truly amazing, and I want to say how grateful I am that she took this challenge and that she’s willing to make a difference in this community, and I’m very committed to do the same,” President Maric said at Thursday’s event in Waterbury.
She is also a Senior Scientist at Haskins Laboratories and co-founder of Haskins Global Literacy Hub with Haskins Laboratories President Kenneth Pugh, a member of the faculties of UConn and Yale.
Dr. Hoeft received pre- and postdoctoral research training at Harvard, UCLA, Caltech, and Stanford, and held faculty positions at Stanford and UCSF prior to joining UConn. She holds undergraduate, graduate, and PhD degrees from Keio University in Tokyo, where she is also an adjunct faculty member at its School of Medicine.
She has also created or co-created several other centers and organizations in her academic fields over the years and has garnered significant federal research grant funding, including more than $20 million currently as principal investigator and another $10 million in other roles.
Dr. Hoeft also initiated a speaker series through the BIRC that has hosted McArthur Genius Grant awardees and other prominent neuroscientists.
She also created the “B.R.A.I.N. Camp” reading intervention program with Devin Kearns, a professor of educational psychology in the Neag School of Education; and the highly successful “Ask a Brain Scientist” online series of hands-on science classwork used by hundreds of children registered from around Connecticut and elsewhere in the U.S.
UConn Interim Provost Anne D’Alleva said she and others throughout the University are excited to work in tandem with Dr. Hoeft to fulfill the vision of the Waterbury campus as a driver for economic development, healthcare education, and community vitality.
“The appointment of an outstanding researcher and dynamic leader like Fumiko signals our strong support for this campus and speaks to the importance of our partnership with the City of Waterbury,” D’Alleva said.
Dr. Hoeft has prioritized community engagement and outreach throughout her career, including co-founding the World Association for Young Psychiatrists and Trainees (WAYPT) in 2003, which is now part of the educational program of the World Psychiatric Association.
Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary praised Dr. Hoeft at Thursday’s event for diving quickly into issues important to the city and the region and, like others there, gave her an enthusiastic standing ovation when she was introduced.
“One thing that’s really important to remember about this campus and which she understands is that yes, obviously it serves the needs of students in Waterbury and the city itself in many ways, but it also serves the entire region,” O’Leary said.
“We always say, ‘As Waterbury goes, so goes the region,’ and ‘As the region goes, so does Waterbury’ – so it’s just as important to us that this campus provides opportunities for students in the entire region,” he added.
Dr. Hoeft has said she also recognizes and is excited by the good that UConn Waterbury can do on a regional basis – and, she said, potentially beyond the state’s borders to become a national example of community connectivity and programming.
“We must leverage this opportunity to train our next generation of talent that values diversity, community, and a team-based approach, and to enhance research activities to further our economic growth,” she said.
“By us coming together and co-creating, I strongly believe that we will be a leading institution and community – not just regionally, not just in the state of Connecticut, but in our nation. I’m overjoyed to be here to play a part at this monumental time.
Dr. Hoeft said she has started conversations with national nonprofit organizations to explore connections with Waterbury Public Schools to include mentoring and teacher training programs; bringing a STEM van from CLAS at Storrs to Waterbury to provide on-site learning and research collaboration; ideas on how to make the campus a hub for social entrepreneurship; and many other opportunities.
She is also envisioning on-campus service enhancements in areas such as mental health services and possibly the creation of a Student Union, along with experiential learning opportunities.
“Of course, I do not expect these changes to happen overnight, but I am thrilled to start the visioning and strategic planning process to ensure it is what the community wants,” she said.
“At Waterbury, I will amplify your voices to turn your dreams into plans, plans into action, and action into outcomes,” she said. “We will have people come to Waterbury because of what Waterbury is, and what it will become. And I am confident that with together, we can reach our north star.”