ATHENS, Ohio (WCMH) – Ohio University has named its 23rd president — and first woman at the helm.

Dr. Lori Stewart Gonzalez will assume the role in July, replacing Interim President Hugh Sherman, Ohio University’s board of trustees announced Wednesday. She currently serves as executive vice president and provost at the University of Louisville.

“Dr. Gonzalez brings the kind of authentic and open communication style that we appreciate and was identified as important by our stakeholders,” Peggy Viehweger, board chair, said.

Born in rural Kentucky, Gonzalez said Appalachia root’s run “deep” in her veins, emphasizing the importance of protecting the region and uplifting its residents. She told NBC4 that as president, her top priorities will be student success, financial stability and taking care of the university community — both students and staff.

“We want to make sure our students come in here, they have a transformational experience. That’s the first goal. And always for every institution it’s going to be financial stability. We want to be sure we have a firm financial basis so we can offer incredible programs to our students, so we can continue our path on discovery and research,” Gonzalez said.

Sherman was appointed to a two-year term in June 2021 after Duane Nellis retired. Nellis, who transitioned to a faculty position in the College of Arts and Sciences, had served as president since 2017.

Gonzalez holds a doctorate in communication sciences and disorders from the University of Florida, practicing as speech-language pathologist and known as an accomplished researcher in her field.

In February, the university named Gonzalez and two others as finalists, inviting the candidates to speak with students, faculty, staff and alumni over a series of three open forums in early March. Gonzalez was named interim president at the University of Louisville in December but was not named a finalist for the permanent position.  

Gonzalez beat out Avinandan Mukherjee, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Marshall University. The third finalist, Susana Rivera-Mills, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at Ball State University, was announced as Aurora University’s next president in mid-March.

The board said it picked Gonzalez for her knowledge and experience – Gonzalez said she picked Ohio University for its ability to weather any storm, especially as higher education faces an “inflection point.”

Over the next few months, Gonzalez said she and her husband, Randy, look forward to immersing themselves in Athens life and getting to know the students.

“The one thing you will get with Randy and me is a couple that is all in for the university,” Gonzalez said. “I want to go into a restaurant where they say, ‘Hey, Lori,’ they know who I am because I’ve been there enough to get to know them.”

As of December 2021, Sherman’s base pay was $489,000. According to Ohio University’s website, Nellis teaches geography.