AUGUSTA — The University of Maine at Augusta announced Tuesday James Conneely will become its new president next month, ending more than a year of flux for the top leadership job.

Conneely, a senior consultant at Keeling & Associates Inc. in Massachusetts, was introduced as the school’s leader Tuesday morning during a ceremony in the Fireside Lounge at the Randall Student Center on the Augusta campus. His first day on the job will be Jan. 19.

Conneely “has built a 30-year career identifying, enrolling, supporting and graduating the very same students we work so hard to reach here at UMA,” University of Maine System Chancellor James Page said in a statement prior to the ceremony.

More than a third of the students Conneely has served have been adults, which make up the majority of UMA’s student body, Page added.

Conneely, who received his doctorate in higher education from Georgia State University, is spending the week in the area to meet with faculty and staff members. He and his wife, Becky, are also searching for a home, and the couple plan to move to the Augusta area this month.

The Long Island native’s contract runs through June 30, 2018, and will pay him $192,000 annually. The deal can be extended each July 1 starting in 2017.

UMA “is building a national reputation as a leader in helping students achieve regardless of age, background or location,” Conneely said Tuesday.

Conneely said he and his wife, Becky, will remain in the area for the rest of the week partly to look at houses and to better familiarize himself with some of the ins and outs of the university.

“There are things you notice on the periphery during the interview process,” he said. “During the next couple of days, I’m going to meet with representatives on campus, ask them questions and get information that I need to have as I make this transition.”

UMA’s top leadership position has gone through several changes since September 2014, when Allyson Handley left the university after six years at the helm to take a job in California. Glenn Cummings, former president and executive director of Good Will-Hinckley and the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences, took over as interim president at UMA after that, and in June he was named president of the University of Southern Maine. Rebecca Wyke, the University of Maine System’s chief financial officer, took over as interim president after Cummings left.

University of Maine spokesman Dan Demeritt said Wyke will return to her position as the vice chancellor for finance and administration once Conneely takes over at UMA next month.

Marjorie Medd, chairwoman of the UMA Presidential Search Committee and member of the system’s board of trustees, said university officials chose Conneely “through a collective understanding of where UMA is in its 50-year evolution as an institution of higher learning and our shared agreement that we must work even harder to assist those who have the farthest to go to reach their desired destination.”

Fourth-year English student Kimberly Carter, 21, was a member of the search committee and said she was impressed by Conneely’s experience in student affairs and that he “had an interesting mix of traditional on-campus education experience and an understanding of what we are trying to do as an institution.”

Becoming president at a school with several learning centers poses unique challenges, said Roger Machback, the student government president. Machback, 43, said those challenges include making everyone feel as though they are a part of the university, regardless of where they study.

“I believe he has the vision and focus on bringing UMA together and moving in one direction,” said Machback, a former truck driver who is 10 classes away from a degree in computer science.

After the university’s several leadership changes over the past 16 months, stability at the top will be welcomed, said assistant professor of photography Robert Rainey.

“We have gone through two interim presidents, and each one saw the challenges and showed leadership, but having someone here for a longer term and to build a future is good,” Rainey said. “It’s good to get someone in place for a longer period and spend some time with us to move us in the direction we should (be moving).”

The school narrowed a pool of more than 70 applicants down to three in September. Lawrence Gould, a political science professor at Fort Hays State University in Kansas, and Guiyou Huang, the senior vice president for academic affairs and dean of the faculty at Norwich University in Vermont, were the other two finalists.

Conneely previously served as president of Notre Dame of Maryland University in Baltimore, the only man to hold that post at the historically female school, as well as associate provost and vice president of student affairs at Eastern Kentucky University and assistant vice chancellor of student affairs at the University of Arkansas.

His career in higher education began at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls. From there, he spent time at Villanova University outside Philadelphia and Emory University in Atlanta, where he worked in resident services. He moved to Fayetteville in 1993, where he served as Arkansas’ director of residence life and dining services before taking his position in the student affairs department.

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ

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