There are numerous ways to introduce Dr. Terri Goss Kinzy. 

To students, she is a caring professor and mentor. She is also a scholar known internationally for research in biochemistry and molecular biology. A proven administrator, she is respected for her leadership as a vice president at prestigious institutions. In her personal life, she treasures the roles of wife, mother, and grandmother.

On July 1, Kinzy added another title as she became Illinois State University’s 20th president. She is the first woman to hold the position, which adds to her trailblazing accomplishments. 

“I accept the responsibility of serving as a role model. If my being a scientist and president as a female helps others see their ability to achieve, then I am proud,” said Kinzy, who was selected in a national search. She is “incredibly honored” to have been chosen to succeed Dr. Larry Dietz upon his retirement. 

Kinzy expresses enormous respect for Dietz’s leadership and his ability, in conjunction with the Board of Trustees, to keep Illinois State resilient. “The University’s future will be based on its very strong past,” she said, pledging her commitment to “live our mission and elevate our institution as we educate and connect.”

There is no doubt that Kinzy has the credentials and vision to build the partnerships needed to reach such a lofty goal. She has proven her abilities throughout a career in education that evolved from her inquisitive years as a child growing up in Louisville, Ohio. 

“I had every child’s microscope and chemistry set available, and a subscription to National Geographic,” said Kinzy, a first-generation college student. Her father’s formal education ended with elementary school. He worked as a used car salesman to support the family that also included her brother Patrick. Her mother graduated from a vocational school and was a bookkeeper. Both parents encouraged Kinzy’s academic pursuits. 

“It was always my dream to do science,” she said. A high school physics teacher fueled her passion that was cemented as Kinzy completed her undergraduate degree in chemistry at the University of Akron in Ohio. 

Her career began at BP America. Hired as a chemist, she focused on biofuel development via molecular genetic manipulation of plants and generation of microbes for bioremediation of copper mine waste. 

I do not like to look at where things are as much as looking to the future and contemplating where they could be.

Dr. Terri Goss Kinzy

She veered toward academia during her graduate study. Kinzy completed a doctorate in biochemistry at Ohio’s Case Western Reserve University and was a Postdoctoral Fellow in molecular genetics at Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania. 

Along the way, she developed a plan to teach at the collegiate level and run a research lab. She excelled at both, rising to professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Rutgers University in New Jersey. She was also a professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the university, which is one of the nation’s leading public research institutions. There she became an acclaimed scholar. 

“I have worked in the same field since I was a graduate student. There is always one more question that needs to be answered,” said Kinzy, a world leader in the study of protein synthesis and drug development. “Everything we learn opens three more doors for opportunity to impact human or animal health or agriculture. All are impacted by how proteins function.”

Kinzy has studied protein production in organisms from fungi and mammals. She has furthered the understanding of how mRNAs direct the way in which proteins are made. More than $9 million in international and federal funding has been secured from the National Institutes for Health, the National Science Foundation, and other agencies. 

Projects have ranged from anti-fungal drug discovery, examination of how bacterial toxins affect cells, and automated DNA analysis. The work has been done in partnership with other scholars and students ranging from high school teens through post-graduates.

“It is very clear the high impact there is on students who have the opportunity to participate in research, particularly as undergraduates,” Kinzy said. Those she mentored had quite the experience. One project with a scholar in Europe, for example, led to determining protein structure. 

President Kinzy and her spouse, Scott, met as undergraduates. He is eager to fill the role of a Redbird ambassador and promote the University. 

“We could actually see what a protein looks like. All of my students participated in an international collaboration and many traveled to Denmark,” said Kinzy, who was named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2017. She was chosen by Crain’s Detroit Business for its 2019 Notable Women in STEM, an honor added to many accolades for her teaching, mentoring, and scholarship. 

Kinzy gradually grew into administrative roles, rising from program director and dean positions to being named the vice president for research at Rutgers in 2016. She managed an operating budget of nearly $43 million in an office with oversight of $658 million in research expenditures. 

“I was fortunate that the administrative move happened little by little because with the increasing responsibility, I had to step back from the lab a bit more,” she said. “I have had the opportunity to help so many more people advance their research and knowledge. You can be just as excited about students winning an award for their scholarship and a faculty member recognized as your own success.”

She relished helping others soar in her most recent role as vice president for Research and Innovation at Western Michigan University. Kinzy was also a professor in biological sciences as she led the institution’s growth in external research expenditures from federal grants by 33 percent in one year. 

It was through the encouragement of her peers and family that she contemplated a presidency. Her greatest cheerleaders include her husband, Scott; their son Alan, who is studying business and hospitality; and their daughter Kate and her spouse, Ryan, who have an infant son Finn. Kate is a chemical engineer for General Mills.

Kinzy focused on state schools in her search and preferred the Midwest. “I am very committed to public education and was drawn to Illinois State because it is a dedicated community that is proud and looking to build on its success,” she said, describing ISU as an economic engine locally and within the state. “We have a very strong base with civic engagement in the community and we will build on that, including the corporate connections.”

The emphasis on undergraduate research also drew her to the University as it fulfills its motto to “Gladly learn and teach.”

Five facts about President Kinzy

• Dr. Terri Goss Kinzy’s husband, Scott, is also a chemist. They met at a residence hall party as undergraduates at the University of Akron. 

• People are surprised to learn Kinzy used bread yeast in her lab as one tool to examine what makes the human body produce proteins.  

• Kinzy’s desire to lead a state public university is tied to her conviction that such institutions play a major role in reaching students of color, nontraditional students, and first-generation college graduates.

• One favorite pastime for the Kinzys is birding, and specifically identifying bird nests. She also runs in 5k events. 

• Kinzy is an avid reader of science fiction, with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series a favorite. 

“It’s fitting that ‘learn’ comes before ‘teach,’ as we all are always learning and then teaching, including our students.” She readily acknowledges her own learning curve as she takes the helm. “I do not have all the answers, but I look forward to hearing ideas and working together to implement them.”  

She and Scott are incredibly grateful for the warm welcome and outpouring of support they experienced while transitioning to campus. Messages from faculty, staff, and alumni were greatly appreciated and fit with the type of presidency Kinzy plans to establish. 

“I want everyone to share their ISU story because hearing from people is really important,” said Kinzy, whose first task is to understand the priorities of the campus community and local leaders as she builds relationships.

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She is committed to championing the University’s equity, diversity, and inclusion work, and will advance efforts to increase the international student population. Kinzy is also excited about the prospect of developing an engineering program and overseeing the Wonsook Kim College of Fine Arts renovation project. 

Kinzy is eager to embrace each opportunity as president, with Scott ready to partner in his role. He has retired to fully engage in working as ISU’s ambassador. They both know there is a high anticipation for what lies ahead at Illinois State as the first female leads the University. 

For those who wonder how she will approach the presidency, Kinzy shares that she follows the basic principle to never panic and embrace what is possible. “I do not like to look at where things are as much as looking to the future and contemplating where they could be,” Kinzy said. 

That’s exactly what she did when applying for the University presidency. As a result, Kinzy is beginning her journey as a Redbird. She does so with enthusiasm and appreciation.