A top executive at the National Science Foundation and leading science, technology, engineering and math expert has been named president of the University of Maine.

University of Maine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy Courtesy of the University of Maine

Joan Ferrini-Mundy was selected after a national search, and succeeds Susan Hunter, who is retiring.

Ferrini-Mundy takes the reins at the flagship Orono campus as state and higher education officials are increasingly focused on making sure schools are preparing students for workforce shortages in Maine in the STEM fields, particularly engineering and computer science. The institutions are also expanding nursing programs for the same reason.

A new engineering building is planned to expand capacity, and the campus recently received a record $10 million gift toward the project. Since 2001, the undergraduate engineering program has had 70 percent growth in enrollment, and in the last two years UMaine has added 10 new faculty members to the program.

Other major initiatives at UMaine include the ongoing fundraising for a $200 million comprehensive campaign, of which $121 million has already been raised.

“This is an exciting time to join UMaine and UMM and to be a part of shaping the future of the great state of Maine and beyond through higher education,” Ferrini-Mundy said at her introduction Tuesday.

Chancellor James Page announced the new president of UMaine and the University of Maine at Machias – now in its first year as a regional campus of UMaine – at a news conference at the Buchanan Alumni House in Orono.

“Under President Hunter’s leadership over the last four years we have seen how innovation and partnership can leverage UMaine’s 150-year legacy of service for even greater state-focused impact,” Page said. “Dr. Ferrini-Mundy will provide the national expertise, stature, and commitment to higher education that will ensure the University of Maine and the University of Maine at Machias are One University leaders in serving Maine students, families, businesses, and communities.”

Ferrini-Mundy, 63, will be paid $350,000, partially subsidized by a new endowment fund established by the Harold Alfond Fund. Hunter was paid $275,000.

Ferrini-Mundy was most recently the chief operating officer for the National Science Foundation, a $7.8 billion federal agency supporting fundamental research and education in non-medical fields of science and engineering.

Prior to that, she held academic and leadership positions at Michigan State University and the University of New Hampshire. She earned a Ph.D. in mathematics education from the University of New Hampshire’s College of Engineering. She served as associate dean for science and mathematics education in the College of Natural Science at Michigan State, and was a professor of math and teacher education for 12 years. Before joining Michigan State, Ferrini-Mundy was director of the Masters of Science for Teachers Program and a math professor at UNH for 16 years.

“Helping people learn mathematics is my first love, a passion that brings understanding and respect for the faculty who conduct the scholarship, teaching, and research so fundamental to the university mission,” she said. “Based on early conversations and first impressions I have every confidence that the faculty, academic leaders, and I share an appreciation for the institution and traditions of higher education.”

UMaine is home to several major research centers, including the Advanced Structures and Composites Center, the Climate Change Institute, and institutes dedicated to aquaculture, forest bioproducts and geographic information and analysis.

“Her leadership will be key to maximizing opportunities both on this campus and around the system to attract new research investment, commercialization and growth activity to Maine,” said James Erwin, chairman of the University of Maine System board of trustees.

Hunter, who was appointed president by Page, was the first woman to serve as president of the Orono campus. Ferrini-Mundy is the first woman for the role who was selected in a nationwide search.

Orono’s finances and enrollment have been steady or up in recent years, despite a declining number of Maine’s high school graduates due to demographics and a systemwide financial crisis about five years ago. UMaine aggressively pursued overseas and out-of-state candidates, offering special tuition discounts in some cases to attract the students who pay up to three times the in-state rate.

Today, the combined undergraduate and graduate enrollment at UMaine is 11,240 students. That’s about the same as five years ago, although the graduate numbers are down 5 percent. The campus has 2,383 employees, including 878 faculty members and 26 administrators.

UMaine Machias has 701 students and 108 employees. A new vice president and head of campus, Andrew Egan, was named earlier this month.