Penn State names Neeli Bendapudi as next president

Current president and professor of marketing at the University of Louisville will take office this spring semester
Portrait of Neeli Bendapudi

Neeli Bendapudi was named the 19th president of Penn State on Dec. 9, 2021, by the University's Board of Trustees. She is currently president of the University of Louisville in Kentucky.

Credit: Michelle Bixby

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Neeli Bendapudi, currently president and professor of marketing at the University of Louisville, Kentucky, has been unanimously named Penn State’s next president by the Penn State Board of Trustees on Dec. 9. When she begins her appointment as Penn State’s 19th president in spring 2022, she will make history as the first woman and person of color to serve as the University’s president.

Bendapudi, currently the 18th president of the University of Louisville, is a recognized leader in higher education who specializes in marketing and consumer behavior. With a nearly 30-year career in academia, Bendapudi has taught marketing and served in a variety of administrative roles over the years, including as provost and executive vice chancellor at the University of Kansas, dean of the School of Business at the University of Kansas, and founding director of the Initiative for Managing Services at Ohio State University. With a focus on collaboration and development, Bendapudi has dedicated her career to student success, fostering inclusivity, and creating opportunities for students, faculty and staff to thrive.

Penn State is a world-class university, and I couldn’t be prouder and more excited to join this vibrant community of outstanding students, faculty, staff and alumni throughout the commonwealth and beyond.

—Neeli Bendapudi , Penn State president-elect

“Penn State is a world-class university, and I couldn’t be prouder and more excited to join this vibrant community of outstanding students, faculty, staff and alumni throughout the commonwealth and beyond,” Bendapudi said. “Thank you to the Penn State community and Board of Trustees. I am grateful for this opportunity and will make it my mission to help Penn State reach new heights across each of our campuses.”

After a comprehensive national search, Bendapudi was announced as the University’s next president during a Dec. 9 special meeting of the Board of Trustees following an extensive vetting process and overwhelming support from the Presidential Recruitment and Selection Committee, an 18-member group with student, faculty, staff and trustee representatives. She will succeed President Eric J. Barron, who will retire after serving Penn State for more than 30 years in various roles, including most recently as president since 2014.

“We are proud to welcome Dr. Bendapudi to Penn State. She is a dynamic and innovative leader who has dedicated nearly her entire professional life to higher education and is prepared to help our University advance in the ways we support students, create new knowledge and serve society,” said Matt Schuyler, chair of the Board of Trustees. “I want to extend my appreciation on behalf of the entire Board of Trustees to the many Penn State community members who participated in this selection process. Your engagement served as a critical framework throughout the search and has helped lead us to this exciting new chapter in Penn State’s history.”

Schuyler thanks President Barron for his years of dedicated service and has noted there will be a seamless transition between the two leaders.

“President Barron’s impact can be felt in every facet of the University, throughout the state of Pennsylvania and beyond,” Schuyler said. “His steadfast commitment to our students, faculty and staff; dedication to opening pathways to a Penn State education; passion for research and entrepreneurial innovation; and leadership during challenging times have been unwavering. Dr. Barron will leave our University in a most-desirable position for any leader to further our goals and mission.”

President-elect Neeli Bendapudi greets Penn State community

Penn State President-elect Neeli Bendapudi, who will be the first woman and first person of color to fill the role, greets the Penn State community.

About Penn State’s 19th president

Following a rigorous interview process — including special small-group meetings with select faculty members — the full Board of Trustees interviewed and selected Bendapudi to be the University’s next president.

“We found Neeli Bendapudi to be an incredibly thoughtful, strategic leader with an inspiring breadth and depth of experiences in academia and research. As an accomplished leader, she will bring a forward-looking perspective to the presidency while remaining grounded in the important connections with our students. The qualities of a 21st-century academic leader — commitments to excellence, equity and opportunity — are second nature to Dr. Bendapudi,” said Nina Jablonski, Evan Pugh University Professor of Anthropology and member of the Presidential Recruitment and Selection Committee. “I am honored to have served Penn State in this capacity, alongside my dedicated colleagues. We committed ourselves to recommending the best individual for this vital position.”

The board and committee were very impressed with Bendapudi’s commitment to research, innovation and economic development, and also to how her experiences and vision align with Penn State’s modern land-grant mission and values, according to Schuyler.

“Thank you to the many students, faculty, staff and trustees who served on the Presidential Recruitment and Selection Committee and Next Gen Penn State Advisory Group, including the outstanding leadership from trustees Mark H. Dambly, David Kleppinger and Julie Anna Potts throughout this process,” Schuyler said. “Your collective dedication has resulted in an exceptional new president for Penn State, and I am thrilled to be able to begin working with her as our president-elect.”

Following Barron’s retirement announcement, the Board of Trustees moved forward with a phased approach to select a new University leader and named the Presidential Recruitment and Selection Committee to lead the search with support from executive search firm Spencer Stuart. During a listening phase in the spring, Penn State community members shared their input and recommendations resulting in a Next Gen Penn State report that was used to inform the presidential position profile. The official search launched in July 2021 and throughout the fall the Presidential Recruitment and Selection Committee developed a pool of the highest-quality candidates, with deliberate effort to identify diverse, high-performing candidates across genders and backgrounds.

“It was a privilege to serve the University in this capacity on behalf of my fellow students and peers,” said Erin Boas, undergraduate student member of the Presidential Recruitment and Selection Committee and president of the University Park Undergraduate Association. “I couldn’t be more excited to welcome Dr. Bendapudi to Penn State. She is a charismatic, transformational leader who cares deeply about students and has committed herself to advancing all aspects of the student experience.”

Distinguished leader in higher education

Bendapudi, who specializes in customer experience, has served as the 18th president of the University of Louisville since 2018. In this role, she oversees the university’s 12 academic colleges, Division 1 athletics program, and integrated academic health system, which includes five hospitals, four medical centers and nearly 200 physician practice locations. Serving more than 16,000 undergraduate and 6,300 graduate students, the University of Louisville is a Research 1 doctoral university with 40% Pell-eligible students.

As president, Bendapudi has focused on creating opportunities for University of Louisville students, faculty, staff and alumni to excel and to serve their communities. Under her results-based leadership at the University of Louisville, the institution has:

  • Recruited the university’s largest and most diverse freshman class and reached record enrollment levels, improved four-year graduation rates, and increased annual sponsored research by nearly 80% in three years.
  • Initiated a series of actions to improve the university’s financial stability.
  • Increased efforts around fostering diversity, equity and inclusion, and expanded support and engagement opportunities for students and personal and professional development opportunities for employees.
  • Attracted corporate and donor support for critical university priorities.
  • Stabilized the $1.8 billion health system.
  • Emerged as a national leader in diversity and inclusion, including Louisville being named as one of only three universities among the top 101 public universities to receive an “A” for creation of access for African Americans and Latinx students.

Prior to her current role, Bendapudi has held a number of notable positions in higher education, including serving as provost and executive vice chancellor at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas, the state’s flagship university, from 2016 to 2018, and as dean of KU’s School of Business between 2011 and 2016. As provost of the University of Kansas, she led the recruitment of the largest, most diverse and highest-GPA freshman class; expanded funding for first-generation and Pell-grant students; and built strong community, public and private partnerships. As dean, she was a prolific fundraiser enabling the construction of the award-winning Capitol Federal Hall for the School of Business.

In addition to her academic leadership experience, Bendapudi also previously served as executive vice president and chief customer officer for Huntington National Bank, at the time a top-30 U.S. bank with $55 billion in assets and 12,000 associates. She also has consulted for some of the world’s largest companies and organizations, including AIG, Procter & Gamble, and the U.S. Army.

During her 27-year career as an educator, Bendapudi has taught marketing at the undergraduate, graduate and doctoral levels and received numerous college and national teaching awards, including the Academy of Marketing Science Outstanding Marketing Teacher Award. She has taught at the University of Louisville, University of Kansas, Texas A&M University and Ohio State University.

With a background in the study of consumer behavior in service contexts, Bendapudi has focused her research on customers’ willingness to maintain long-term relationships with firms and with the brands and employees that represent them. Her research has been published in the Journal of Academic Medicine, Harvard Business Review, Journal of Marketing, Journal of Marketing Research, Journal of Retailing and Journal of Service Research, among others.

Among her numerous professional affiliations, she is a member of several non-profit organization boards, including Internet 2.0, American Council on Education, and Louisville Healthcare CEO Council, and sits on the board of directors of publicly held Lancaster Colony Corporation. She is a member of the International Women’s Forum and Women Corporate Directors.

Throughout her career, Bendapudi has been recognized for contributions in her field. In 2014, she was inducted into KU Women’s Hall of Fame, which recognizes individuals for significant contributions and achievements, overall impact and outstanding character. She is a former Leadership Foundation Fellow of the International Women’s Forum, one of a select group of women chosen globally for this prestigious honor. Bendapudi also has been recognized by additional independent entities, including:

  • Diverse Issues in Higher Education referenced her as one of 25 women “who have made a difference in the academy by tackling some of higher education’s toughest challenges, exhibiting extraordinary leadership skills and making a positive difference in their respective communities” (2021).
  • Enterprising Women recognized Bendapudi among a select group of women who “are making a difference in business and in the community” (2021).
  • Louisville Business First highlighted Bendapudi among 25 local leaders named to the publication’s annual list of “Most Admired CEOs” for strong leadership exhibited during a year of unprecedented challenges (2020).

Bendapudi earned her bachelor’s degree in English and master of business administration degree from Andhra University in India and her doctorate in marketing from the University of Kansas.

She is married to Dr. Venkat Bendapudi, who is now retired after serving on the faculties at Ohio State University, University of Kansas and University of Louisville.

The president-elect's salary was approved by the Board of Trustees Subcommittee on Compensation and the initial annual base salary will be $950,000. The full compensation sheet is available online.

Bendapudi will assume leadership for Penn State’s 24-campus network and top-ranked online World Campus. As Pennsylvania’s sole land-grant institution, with a mission to serve the citizens of Pennsylvania and beyond, Penn State enrolls approximately 90,000 students — 30% of undergraduate students are first generation college students and 25% are Pell-eligible — and employs nearly 22,000 full-time faculty and staff members. The University offers more than 275 baccalaureate degree majors and has the largest network of living alumni worldwide with more than 700,000 members.