New SUNY chancellor has an engineering background and an entrepreneurial spirit

Gazette photo by Jonathan Forrester


The SUNY board of trustees on Monday appointed Dr. Kristina M. Johnson as the 13th chancellor of the State University of New York.

Johnson — an engineer, business executive and former energy official under President Barack Obama — served as Dean of the School of Engineering at Duke University from 1999 to 2007 and then as senior vice-president and provost of Johns Hopkins University.

Kristina Johnson

She earned her bachelor’s degree, master’s degree and doctorate in electrical engineering from Stanford University and spent much of her early academic career at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

“Throughout her distinguished career, Kristina Johnson has not only been a faculty member, administrator, and visionary in higher education but also a dedicated public servant, national energy czar, successful entrepreneur, and an acclaimed inventor,” said SUNY Chairman H. Carl McCall. “We are thrilled to welcome her to SUNY, where her range of experience will enable her to leverage the incredible work of our 64 colleges and universities.

Johnson is the founder and chief executive officer of Cube Hydro Partners, LLC, which develops hydroelectric generation facilities that provide clean energy to communities and businesses throughout the country.

Throughout her career, Johnson has been an advocate for women in leadership, advanced STEM and STEAM education, pioneered the creation of jobs through higher education-industry partnerships, established intensive research opportunities for students and faculty, and positioned leading institutions of higher education for greater success through the development of innovative strategic plans.

“The State University of New York is a complex, captivating system like no other in higher education, and the opportunity to serve as its chancellor is the highest honor of my career,” Johnson said after the appointment was made official Monday afternoon. “I look forward to building on the excellent foundation for SUNY that Governor Cuomo, Chancellor Zimpher, and the Board of Trustees have developed in partnership with SUNY presidents, faculty, staff, and students as well as the communities they serve in every region.”

Johnson is an inventor who holds 118 U.S. and international patents. She became a member of the National Academy of Inventors and the National Academy of Engineering in 2016 and was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, together with Gary Sharp, in 2015, for the development of polarization-control technologies that enabled high quality 3D movies and TV.

Johnson, 59, is replacing Nancy Zimpher — SUNY’s first female chancellor — who will step down at the end of this academic year. Johnson will officially assume her new duties on September 5. Her salary will be $560,000 a year.

“Dr. Johnson is a proven leader and innovator whose cross-sector experience and strong belief in the power of education will be a great benefit to The State University of New York,” said Chancellor Zimpher. “In academia, she has brought stakeholder groups together to create and implement strategic vision crafted at the hands of many.

“On the national forefront, she successfully managed and uplifted our country’s most advanced energy research. And as a former faculty member-turned-entrepreneur, time and again she has bridged the gap between higher education and business to create programs that prepare students for in-demand careers.

“The future of SUNY is indeed bright under the leadership of Dr. Johnson.”


Gazette photo by Jonathan Forrester

The president of the union representing faculty and staff at the State University of New York said he is pleased by the selection of Johnson as the next SUNY chancellor and encouraged by her record at Duke.

“We are very encouraged by Dr. Johnson’s appointment as SUNY chancellor,” said Frederick Kowal, president of United University Professions. “She’s held a variety of leadership roles in her academic career, including her service at public universities, in addition to serving in the public sector in the Obama administration.”

Kowal described her as an “innovator” whose talents will be put to good use at SUNY.

“We look forward to working with her and sharing our goal to keep SUNY as the premier public higher education system in the nation,” he said.

Kowal praised Johnson’s record as dean of Duke University’s Pratt School of Engineering, where she hired more faculty and significantly increased research spending as part of an ambitious expansion plan.

“SUNY needs more full-time faculty, a need that will become more apparent with an expected influx of students under the Excelsior Scholarship program. Dr. Johnson’s prior willingness to hire additional faculty will serve SUNY and its students well,” Kowal said.

Kowal is also pleased by Johnson’s history of advancing environmental sustainability, a UUP priority.

Johnson holds honorary degrees from Trinity College in Dublin, Tufts University, McGill University and the University of Alabama at Huntsville.