Get to Know the First-Year President in This Q&A

By Nate Haas '04

Andy Feinstein was halfway through his favorite UNC day yet when he spotted the School of Music percussionists and a group of students dancing in front of Garden Theater on central campus.

He could have joined the crowd that was taking in the performance, which was part of UNC’s annual Day of Music. Or paused for a moment to appreciate the scene before hurrying to the next stop on his jam-packed Homecoming Friday itinerary. Or just waved as he went past.

Instead, Andy flung off his suit jacket and joined the circle of dancers. There he was, UNC’s bespectacled first-year president, in dress attire, learning the dance on the fly as the rhythms of African Gahu music pulsed from UNC’s Percussion ensemble.

Since arriving on campus in July, UNC’s new president, who introduces himself with a simple, “I’m Andy,” has made it a priority to be engaged. His passion for students and their success is evident in his interactions with them.

Earlier that Homecoming Friday, after breakfast with a group of new freshmen, he’d delivered a speech to over 500 prospective students and their families. He then stayed around to visit and take selfies with student orientation leaders. Back at his office, he posed for photos with the sousaphone players who stopped by to serenade him before he headed to lunch with 30 alumni from the Class of 1968 who were on campus for their 50-year-reunion.

After an afternoon budget meeting, he joined his family to celebrate his father-in-law’s 80th birthday at Roma Restaurant, where owner Jon Shaw had recently debuted the Fightin’ Feinstein pizza that he’d asked Andy to help design not long after he arrived in Greeley. From there, Andy and his daughter, Rachel, joined students at the Homecoming bonfire, delighting them by blasting Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” over the event’s loudspeakers. As the crowd grew to some 200 students, they settled in for the annual Homecoming fireworks show. 

His workday started at 7:30 a.m. and ended 14 hours later.

“When I got home, I was fully energized,” he says. “It was a magical day for me.

“There was so much happiness on campus, so much engagement and involvement with people, and so many different facets of our university. I literally went from talking to students who were thinking about attending UNC to students who graduated 50 years ago, and everything in between. I thought to myself, ‘this is a great university, and I am so fortunate to be part of it.’”

Since his arrival, Andy has traveled more than 8,000 miles, meeting with hundreds of alumni, faculty, staff, students and community members. Introducing him at the State of the University address in September, Faculty Senate Chair Stan Luger noted, “My bet is that President Feinstein has already met just about each and every one of you.

“With seemingly boundless energy, he has already reached out to the campus community by attending scores of events and countless meetings with every possible group on and off campus,” Luger told the audience.

Despite that pace, as Andy neared the end of his first semester at UNC, he fielded questions from UNC Magazine about his foray into the presidency, university planning, his personal life, and the mantra, “rowing not drifting,” that he is challenging campus to embrace.

Andrew “Andy” Hale Feinstein

Title: President (13th in UNC’s 129-Year History)

Previously: Provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at San José State University (SJSU), one of the largest public universities in the Western United States, ranking in the top 200 universities in the nation for total research spending and a national leader in graduating students of color. Before arriving at SJSU in 2013, he was dean of the Collins College of Hospitality Management and the James A. Collins Distinguished Chair and professor at the California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. While dean, he also served as the chancellor-appointed director of Hospitality Management Education for the California State University system.

Credentials: Began his academic career as a professor at University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Hotel Administration. Also served at UNLV as chair of the Department of Food and Beverage Management, associate dean for Strategic Initiatives at the Harrah College of Hospitality, and senior advisor to the president.

His Ph.D. is in Man-Environment Relations from Pennsylvania State University, where he was also an academic computing fellow.

Personal: Born in Cleveland, Ohio; grew up in Point Loma in San Diego, California.

Family: Kerry, wife; Nicholas, son, 18; Rachel, daughter, 14; two cats, Clara and Bella.

State of the University address

Save the Date:
Friday, April 12, 2019

A traditional campus ceremony during a president’s first year, called an investiture, will formally introduce Feinstein as UNC president. An open house of the Campus Commons will also be held following the investiture.

  • Q: How has your first semester at UNC and as a first-time president been?

    Andy: It’s been frenetic, intentionally so. I’m honored to be serving as UNC’s president. It’s hard work and there are long days, but I’m really enjoying getting to know people and learning more about UNC. I’ve traveled the state from Sterling on the Eastern Plains to Grand Junction on the Western Slope, and along the Front Range from Greeley to Colorado Springs. And it seems I’m in Denver at least once a week.

    Closer to home, my goal has been to meet with as many students, faculty, staff and community members as possible. At the start of the semester, I hosted student breakfasts to hear firsthand what it’s like to be a student at UNC. I’ve been to events at all of the cultural centers — which are incredible — and the students and staff who support those programs really welcomed me. I’m working to meet with every academic department by the end of the school year. I’ve made it to about 25 so far, and I have plans to branch out to other units across campus next semester.

    There’s this Midwest-friendly and welcoming vibe, laden with camaraderie. Aims President Leah Bornstein and Superintendent Deirdre Pilch, from District 6, have been great to me. So have Mayor John Gates and City Manager Roy Otto. The Greeley community is such an asset for UNC. The people here were one of the major reasons that my family and I were excited about becoming part of this community.

  • Q: What other things are you seeing that make UNC special?

    Andy: This is a right-sized university. I can see that in the class sizes. I see it when I walk around campus and engage students in conversation. I recognize them and know many of their names already. That’s harder to do at a campus of 35,000 students. At the same time, we have the diversity and complexity of a national research university: world-class faculty, groundbreaking research, Division I athletics, musical performances and plays, events, art exhibits, fundraising events and social activities. There’s something happening on this campus every day. 

    There’s also something special about our Normal School heritage. Faculty that I talk to genuinely care about teaching and learning. They also want to make sure we continue to value the teacher-scholar model that emphasizes the balance between teaching and research. The university is a part of the fabric of who faculty and staff are. They care deeply about this place in a way that is unique.

    The same can be said of our students. They are the least entitled students I’ve ever met. But don’t let that fool you. They also have an incredible sense of pride and civic responsibility. They care deeply about this university and want to make the world a better place.

  • Q: You’ve been talking about student success since you arrived. What can you do as president to help students flourish?

    Andy: First, I’m trying to understand what I can do to ensure their success — in the classroom, and beyond. I’ve met with groups of freshmen, graduating seniors, transfer students, international students and graduate students to better understand their unique perspectives. These conversations have helped me understand the hurdles students have to overcome and what they appreciate about UNC. I’m asking them what should I be focused on as their president. One of the biggest things I’ve learned is that they want to be heard. And their insights and suggestions are valuable.

    I understand the fundamentals of student success as it pertains to graduation and retention. There are some tried-and-true methodologies we need to pursue, including the ways in which we advise our students, how we work with our K-12 community on college readiness, and ensuring students feel a sense of place on campus. Those are all important parts of student success. But each university is unique. I’m trying to understand the differences that make UNC special so we can customize our student success approach to best meet the needs of our students.

  • Q: What are other challenges that you want to address?

    Andy: Students are applying to more universities. I am well versed in this because I have a senior in high school who is getting stacks of material from colleges and universities around the country and has applied to practically a dozen. I’m trying to understand how he’s making that decision and what’s important to him in choosing a university. We have to work on what makes UNC distinctive and unique in a competitive marketplace, understanding what differentiates this university from others and how we reinforce those values.

    My son, Nick, is focused on what it feels like to be on campus. It’s about this visceral, emotional reaction that students have when they first get here. Those first moments that students engage with the university are so important — that first letter or phone call or campus tour, who’s leading it and what’s being said. That’s one of the reasons I’m so excited about the Campus Commons opening. It’s going to be vitally important in showcasing this university and putting our best foot forward.

  • Q: You’ve mentioned the challenge of addressing public concerns about rising costs and the value of higher education. Are you at a point yet where you can say how UNC is going to address this?

    Andy: We have to focus on student success, particularly retention and graduation rates. It’s also about our academic portfolio. And of course, we have some work to do on the budget. I want to create a transparent and open environment that values shared governance and provides opportunities for the campus community to be part of addressing challenges. How do we seize on these challenges to become a stronger university? How do we change the way we work together to become more effective? How can we do an even better job of delivering on UNC’s promise to our students?

  • Q: What made you want to come to UNC despite the challenges you knew you would face?

    Andy: Challenges like the budget aren’t novel to this university. What I was really looking for was a place that aligned with my values: access, diversity, valuing teaching as well as research, scholarship and creative works. I love the performing and visual arts, and I also think there is great value in athletics. There are a lot of amazing things going on at UNC. But what makes a job like this truly rewarding is knowing that you’re helping students fulfill their dreams, and their families’ dreams. Knowing that many of our students are the first their families to go to college makes it even more rewarding.

  • Q: Did you always know you wanted to be a university president?

    Andy: No, I started out, at a very young age, wanting to be a chef. That came from watching my mom, Elaine, cook for my friends. When you cook for people, you connect with them in a real, visceral way. I discovered in elementary school that I was very good at math and went to a middle school specializing in math, science and computers, where I fell in love with technology. For many years thereafter, I focused on finding ways to combine hospitality, technology and my analytical skills. This led me to my first career path of appraising hotels.

    When I graduated from UNLV, I went to work appraising hotels for a large Certified Public Accountant firm in Los Angeles. I took the job in part because they offered me what I thought was a huge amount of money, but I quickly hated it. There was absolutely no work-life balance. I once had more than 100 billable hours in a week. I sought advice from my faculty mentor at UNLV, John Stefanelli, and he encouraged me to come back to earn a master’s degree.

    As a graduate teaching assistant at UNLV, I taught two classes each semester. It was an incredible experience to go from being an undergraduate student to having the faculty members I had looked up to treat me as a peer. I also found immense satisfaction in working with students and sharing my industry experiences. By the time I finished my degree, I knew that I wanted to become a faculty member.

    Instead of going straight from UNLV to Penn State, my wife Kerry and I married and moved into a tiny apartment in the heart of San Francisco. The internet was just in its infancy — that was 1995 — and I created a start-up company that designed websites for the hospitality industry. After a year, I still hadn’t figured out the business model for making money on websites. I also knew that if I didn’t go on to get my Ph.D. then, I would end up chasing the dollar for the rest of my career.

    After earning a doctorate at Penn State as an Academic Computing Fellow, where I studied under Stuart Mann, an expert in Operations Research, I was offered a position as a faculty member at UNLV. Fortuitously, Stuart had been named the new dean of UNLV’s College of Hospitality and John Stefanelli was chair of the Department of Food and Beverage Management. When John chose to step down, I became chair and was able to give back to the people I cared so much about — faculty members I’d known since I was a student. It was rewarding to shape and support the department. After my time as department chair, I became associate dean for strategic initiatives, working on planning, new program development and fundraising. I had an opportunity to become the senior advisor to the president, and being part of the president’s cabinet made me realize that I wanted to lead a university. The president at the time, David Ashley, gave me the good advice that I needed to start by becoming a dean.

    After five years as dean of the Collins College of Hospitality Management at Cal Poly Pomona, one of the top hospitality management programs in the country, I accepted a position as deputy provost at San Jose State University, where I became provost in January 2014. Four years later, I applied to be UNC’s president.

  • Q: What else do you want people to know about you?

    Andy: I want people to know how fortunate I am to be here. Many times, I walk across campus thinking: “Wow. I am president of the University of Northern Colorado.” And I want to remember every moment of this experience. We all have goals and aspirations in life, and when we actually achieve them, I think it’s important to stop and absorb what’s happening and appreciate it as much as we possibly can. But I’m just getting started. Step one was to get the job. Now I have to be a successful president.

    I also want people to know how much I love and appreciate my family. I am so fortunate to have an incredible team that supports me. Moving through the ranks of the academy has taken us to Pennsylvania, Nevada, California and now Colorado. Kerry and I are living in our 12th house. Nick and Rachel have lived in three states. Nick had the chance to stay in California for his senior year of high school, but he chose to come to Colorado. I guess you could say he has an adventurous spirit. I’m not sure where he gets that.