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NASA Administrator Set To Become First Woman To Lead UNT System

Roe, acting deputy administrator for NASA, is set to become the system’s third chancellor and the first woman to ever hold the position with the UNT System.

Lesa Roe
Lesa Roe

Lesa Roe, a leader at NASA, has been selected as the next chancellor for the University of North Texas System.

Roe, acting deputy administrator for NASA, is set to become the system’s third chancellor and the first woman to ever hold the position with the UNT System. She would replace Lee Jackson, who announced his retirement in March.

Roe was introduced Thursday as the sole finalist for the job during the university system’s board of regents meeting in Fort Worth.

As chancellor, Roe would be responsible for the university system’s operations, managing more than 10,000 employees and overseeing three campuses: UNT in Denton, UNT Health Science Center in Fort Worth and UNT Dallas.  

G. Brint Ryan, chairman of the board of regents, said in a statement Thursday that Roe is “a results-oriented, decisive leader with proven success in operating in a high-risk, high-visibility environment.”

“Lesa has more than 30 years of experience in corporate-level strategic positioning and execution for a multi-billion dollar federal agency and her track record of driving efficient productivity, combined with a wealth of experience working with federal and state-level legislators, makes her an ideal fit to lead the UNT System into a new era.”

Experience with NASA, passion for encouraging women in STEM

In her current job, Roe works with NASA’s chief operating officer to lead strategy, execution and operations across all NASA field centers. Roe’s managed the research program at the International Space Station and helped launch missions that have discovered new worlds. As an engineer by training, Roe even helped build the space shuttle Endeavor — literally installed its communications systems. 

She’s coming from the No. 2 position at NASA, an organization with 17,000 employees and a budget of $19 billion, to run a university system in Texas. But, she says there’s a connection.

“We really need a well-trained, well-educated workforce coming in to make those tremendous scientific discoveries, to do all of the incredible systems, the design, everything that we do at NASA,” shes says. “And so the University of North Texas system’s role is to develop those students that can do that kind of work.”

Roe wants UNT to be inclusive and accessible for people of all economic backgrounds. And personally, she’s on a mission to get more women into STEM fields.

“I have a huge passion for young girls seeing ‘Yeah, I can do this. I can be a part of it.’ I was one of those young girls. I was the first to go to college in my family, and so I want to help be that encourager to say, ‘You can do this,'” she says.

Roe will inherit a growing university system. There’s new law school in Dallas and a new medical school in the works in Fort Worth. Roe says she wants to make sure graduates are attractive to top employers.

State law requires that 21 days must pass before the board of regents can take final action to hire Roe. Jackson, the state’s longest-serving chancellor, will stay until Roe takes office and will continue to serve the UNT System until the end of 2017.

More on Roe’s education and background

Roe holds a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Florida and a master’s in electrical engineering from the University of Central Florida. 

She has served on numerous boards and advisory councils including:

  • The Virginia Governor’s Aerospace Advisory Council
  • American Astronautical Society
  • Virginia FIRST Robotics
  • Virginia Research and Technology Advisory Commission

She also has won several awards and honors, including:

  • 2017 American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics AIAA Fellow
  • 2015 Senior Executive Service Presidential Distinguished Rank Award
  • 2006 Presidential Meritorious Executive Rank Award
  • NASA Exceptional Service Medal
  • University of Florida’s Distinguished Career Achievement
  • Outstanding Leadership in Engineering Awards
  • 2010 Women in Aerospace Leadership Award
  • 2010 YWCA Women of Distinction in Science and Technology
  • Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce 2012 Bridge Builder Award

Roe and her husband, Ralph, NASA’s chief engineer, have three children.

Watch an interview with Lesa Roe

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