Preeminent UConn researcher Dr. Fumiko Hoeft, who has earned high praise inside and outside of UConn for her work as interim director of its Waterbury campus, has been selected as its permanent leader.
Interim Provost Anne D’Alleva announced Dr. Hoeft’s appointment on Tuesday, calling her “a prolific researcher and an exemplary member of the University community” who was selected from a pool of talented applicants.
Dr. Hoeft will transition in coming weeks from the interim role she has held since May, with the permanent appointment to campus director becoming official on Dec. 30.
“She has demonstrated a commitment to student success in academics and beyond and has shared an exciting vision for the future of the UConn Waterbury campus and its connections with the wider Waterbury community,” D’Alleva said of Dr. Hoeft.
Dr. Hoeft became interim director of UConn Waterbury in May. She was selected for the permanent position by a search committee that included representatives from the University and the region, including Waterbury’s mayor.
“What I was really drawn by at Waterbury was not just the gorgeous campus, but also the community there,” Dr. Hoeft said in a recent discussion with President Radenka Maric in the President’s “Worth Repeating” interview video series.
“They are all so eager to help their students, children, families and the community, and they’re very eager to work with UConn Waterbury,” Dr. Hoeft said of the city’s leadership, community organizations and businesses, many of which draw employees from UConn Waterbury’s allied health sciences programs and other fields.
“My varied background in medicine and health sciences, my research and clinical experience, my love for community outreach and working with the community all comes together really nicely at this campus,” she said. “It gives me excitement to go to work every day.”
She is director of UConn’s Brain Imaging Research Center (BIRC), and 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.
D’Alleva cited Dr. Hoeft’s experience in directing the BIRC and her mentorship of students for giving her “the skills and expertise to sustain and enhance UConn Waterbury and its diverse population of students, faculty, and staff.”
Dr. Hoeft will continue leading the BIRC and conducting research as UConn Waterbury’s director. She also plans to remain deeply involved in mentoring students, promoting diversity and inclusion, serving the University, and community outreach in the Waterbury region and beyond.
In a recent public forum when she was being interviewed for the permanent director position, Dr. Hoeft said she and others will engage in a strategic planning and visioning process for the campus.
Broadly, its goals will align with UConn’s institutional priorities of enhancing research and scholarship, life-transformative education, and its role as an economic and workforce engine for the state of Connecticut.
More specifically, some of the many goals will include leveraging UConn Waterbury’s diverse and talented on-campus population, partnering with the Greater Waterbury community, and offering innovative programs that lead to career paths aligning with the region’s workforce needs.
At the center of all of the work, Dr. Hoeft said, is ensuring that students have what they need to be successful and happy.
That includes academic support such as tutoring and writing assistance; social and emotional help such as mental health services to and food security programs; opportunities for networking and career paths in the community; and an atmosphere that celebrates and attracts diversity in all of its forms.
Hoeft has extolled the virtues of the campus, the City of Waterbury, and the Naugatuck Valley region for their strong sense of community, diversity, and enthusiasm for academic and workplace partnerships to promote economic growth.
The admiration is mutual. Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary, who served on the search committee that selected Dr. Hoeft, said he looks forward to collaborating with her in the new role.
“Amongst the many exceptional candidates, Dr. Fumiko Hoeft stood out as uniquely qualified to lead the Waterbury campus in educational excellence. She possesses the strategic vision, expertise, energy, and initiative that the Waterbury campus needs,” O’Leary said.
“The success of the UConn Waterbury campus is essential to the vitality of downtown Waterbury, and Dr. Hoeft’s leadership will ensure continued growth and innovation,” he added.
Hoeft became interim director in May with the retirement of Angela Brightly, who was interim director after longtime Campus Director William Pizzuto retired in early 2022.
The Waterbury campus, located in the heart of downtown, has about 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.
During her time as interim director, Dr. Hoeft has built relationships with many local organizations and businesses, including Waterbury Hospital and Saint Mary’s Hospital in Waterbury. Leaders of both hospitals were pleased to hear that she would continue permanently in the role and continue to strengthen healthcare programs there.
“The UConn Waterbury campus is an integral part of downtown Waterbury and an important partner for Saint Mary’s Hospital. The allied health program is a perfect introduction to a career in health care, a field in which we see a need for qualified applicants now and well into the future,” said Kim Kalajainen, FACHE, chief administrative officer of Saint Mary’s Hospital.
“We’re fortunate to have a close working relationship with the program and are delighted at the announcement of Dr. Hoeft as the new Waterbury campus director,” Kalajainen said.
Dr. Hoeft has also built strong connections with Waterbury HEALTH, the network that includes Waterbury Hospital, and its leader says they expect the partnership to continue growing and flourishing.
“UConn Waterbury plays an important role in the vitality of healthcare in the greater Waterbury region. I want to congratulate Dr. Hoeft in her role and look forward to working with her to ensure a bright healthcare future for the region,” said Dr. Justin Lundbye, president and CEO of Waterbury HEALTH.
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 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 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.
“Her involvement in creating and developing several programs and centers to enhance student success in the sciences has established her as an advocate for experiential and transformative learning,” D’Alleva said of Dr. Hoeft.
“She is also deeply passionate about community engagement and the impact that UConn can have on the state, region, and nation. Dr. Hoeft will drive initiatives in economic development, academic excellence, and service to the greater Waterbury community.”
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 $12 million in other roles.
Dr. Hoeft also initiated a speaker series through the BIRC that has hosted MacArthur Fellows “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.
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.
In her time as UConn Waterbury’s interim director, she has met with scores of community organizations, campus faculty and staff, students, and others for their input.
Catherine Awwad, executive director of the Northwest Regional Workforce Board, said Dr. Hoeft has been a very active partner during her time as interim campus director, and joined the board’s Regional Sector Partnerships in manufacturing and healthcare as a core team member.
“Dr. Hoeft brings a unique perspective that will set the stage for advancement in the areas of research and development across multiple industry sectors at the UConn Waterbury campus. She has demonstrated a willingness to partner with employers to assure that their workforce needs are met by the students that will be graduating from our local campus,” Awwad said.
“Her immediate willingness to engage, with members of her UConn Waterbury team, in the development of new workforce-related programming to provide opportunities to the students in the greater Waterbury area is appreciated,” Awwad said.