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CEDAR CITY — Snow College President Michael T. Benson will take over as the 15th president of Southern Utah University on Jan 1, 2007, the state Board of Regents announced Friday on SUU's Cedar City campus.

The board interviewed Benson and four other finalists for the position on Friday during a marathon executive session. A presidential search committee had recommended the five candidates from a pool of 67 applicants representing 26 states.

Benson and his wife, Debi, were introduced to a gathering of faculty, staff and community leaders at 4:45 p.m. in the Randall L. Jones Theater following his official selection by the board.

"Debi and I had a chance to walk around the campus today, and there's a palpable vibe, a feeling of good things happening, and we want to add to that," Benson said after shaking hands with a long line of well-wishers and old friends.

Getting a new science building funded and constructed at SUU is a top priority, said Benson, adding he is anxious to begin raising funds for the project. Benson's success as a fund-raiser and his experience in leading a higher education institution in a rural setting were noted in a news release following the announcement.

From 1995 to 1998, Benson was associate director of major gifts at the University of Utah. He then became a special assistant to the U. president, whetting his appetite for administration experience in higher education. Soon after taking the helm of Snow College, he put his fund-raising skills to work to promote gifts for a new performing arts center on the Ephraim campus.

A grandson of the late Ezra Taft Benson, a late president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Michael Benson earned an undergraduate degree from Brigham Young University and continued his education at Oxford University in England.

Two former Snow College students who now are seniors at SUU waited around Friday to shake Benson's hand. Neither seemed surprised that Benson recognized them as former students of Snow College, even though each had graduated in 2002.

"We were hoping that it would be him," said Vicki Tracy. "He was a lot of fun and brought a lot of energy to campus. He just seems like a go-getter, someone who got a lot of things done."

SUU interim president Greg Stauffer said he was excited that Benson would soon lead the growing university that serves nearly 7,000 students.

"We are thrilled to welcome Mike Benson to our campus and to have him offer his new eyes, vision and leadership," said Stauffer. "Mike will find there are people here who are passionate about their work and their individual roles in the education process. We're excited about the future."

For his part, Benson said he was grateful to outgoing SUU president Steven Bennion, who retired earlier this year, and to others who helped shape the 109-year-old institution.

"I am humbled by this opportunity and will work as hard as I can," he said. "I will do my level best to represent you as you would want me to."

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