Technology and business leaders should take the lead in setting strategy for the state’s public universities and technical colleges, Governor Spencer Cox announced this week, announcing his ten nominees for the revamped Utah Board of Higher Education.
They include Aaron Skonnard, co-founder and CEO of online training company Pluralsight, and Amanda Covington, chief corporate affairs officer of the influential Larry H. Miller Company with interests ranging from real estate to healthcare and finance to the Salt Lake Bees and Swig lemonade stores.
After the current board was criticized in an audit last year for not effectively overseeing the state’s higher education system, lawmakers this spring approved the board’s second overhaul in three years.
Under SB146, enacted by Cox in March, the board will shrink from 18 to 10 members, including one student. The new board is tasked with setting goals and measuring the performance of the state’s 16 universities and colleges, including colleges, using data and metrics, and taking increased accountability to them.
An important new role for the board is to govern common services and review effective system-wide programs that would save the state money, said Rep. Karen M. Peterson, R-Clinton, one of SB146’s sponsors.
“And the second important change is that they will be conducting program reviews,” Peterson said. “And so, for example, they can look at all the nursing programs in the state and make sure we have good coverage across the state.”
None of the members of the existing board were nominated by Cox for the new board. His selection must be approved by the Utah Senate and he would take office on July 1. No hearing dates or invitations for public comment on the nominees were announced this week.
In addition to Skonnard, the nominees from the Utah tech scene also include Cydni Tetro, CEO of the trading platform Brandless; Tina Larson, President and COO at Recursion, a biotech company; and former surgeon Steve Neeleman, founder of HealthEquity, a financial technology and business services company.
Other executives include Danny Ipson, CFO and executive director at DATS Trucking/Overland Petroleum; Attorney Javier Chavez Jr., founder of the Cerveza Zólupez Beer Company in Ogden; and Jon Cox, director of prominent lobbying firm Utah Public Affairs and distant cousin of Governor Cox.
Cox also nominated Sharon Eubank, first adviser in the general presidency of the Relief Society of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The student candidate is Holly Talbot, who attends Uintah Basin Technical College and is also taking compulsory courses at Utah State University.
To create a six-year staggered term, Cox will decide which new members will be assigned initial terms of two, four or six years, Peterson said.
With the current board size of 18 members, Utah has the largest board of surrounding states as per the 2022 audit. The new, smaller board should be more effective, Peterson said.
“If we’re talking about good board leadership and if we want an oversight body as opposed to a body that just meddles in the thick of things,” she said, “then by and large those are the bodies that are high-level. ” Better if they are a little smaller.”
In addition to setting statewide policies and goals, the Utah Board of Higher Education is responsible for submitting higher education budget requests to the governor and legislature and for selecting and evaluating college and university presidents.
The board was last redesigned in 2020 when the Utah System of Higher Education for traditional universities and the Utah System of Technical Colleges were merged. Cox thanked the current board members for their work on this change.
“From bringing technical colleges and grad schools together under the same governance structure to reducing tuition, the board members have served Utahn well and helped create a path for all future postsecondary students in Utah,” Cox said in a press release.
Here is more information on the nine nominees with Talbot as the proposed student member.
Javier Chavez Jr.: Chavez is an attorney and founder of the Cerveza Zólupez Beer Company. He is a board member of Give Me a Chance, Inc, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping underprivileged women and children in northern Utah. He holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Utah and an MBA from Boston College, where he also received his law degree.
Amanda Covington • Covington is Chief Corporate Affairs Officer of the Larry H. Miller Company. She currently serves as a trustee of Weber State University and Davis Technical College, although the new law prohibits her from simultaneously serving on the college council and on the board of any institution (college or university). She is also a board member of the Utah Women’s Leadership Institute and World Trade Center Utah, and serves on the Advisory Board of ShowUp Utah! by First Lady Abby Cox! Initiative. She is a member of the Board of Directors of the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce. She received a bachelor’s degree with honors and a master’s of public administration from the University of Utah.
Jon Cox: Cox is the director of Utah Public Affairs, a well-known lobbying firm, and a distant cousin of Governor Cox. He was previously a Republican member of the Utah House of Representatives and a member of the Sanpete County Commission and spokesman for former Governor Gary Herbert and the late former US Senator Bob Bennett. From 2011 to 2015 he was an assistant professor at Snow College.
Sharon Eubank: Eubank is the first adviser in the Relief Society General Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She previously served as a full-time missionary for the Church in the Finland Helsinki Mission. Eubank received her bachelor’s degree in English from Brigham Young University. After graduating, she taught English as a second language in Japan, served as a legal counsel in the US Senate, and owned an educational retail store in Provo.
Danny Ipson: Ipson is CFO and Managing Director of DATS Trucking/Overland Petroleum. He is also a member of the Utah Tech University Board of Trustees. He earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting and business administration from Southern Utah University.
Tina Larson: Larson is President and Chief Operating Officer of Recursion, a clinical-stage biotechnology company with offices at The Gateway in Salt Lake City. She is also CEO of the antimicrobial company Revagenix and serves on the advisory boards of the Utah System of Higher Education Deep Technology Initiative and the Colorado State University College of Engineering. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in Chemical Engineering from Colorado State University.
Steve Neelman: Neeleman is a former surgeon and founder of HealthEquity, a financial technology and business services company. He is also a member of the HSA Working Group of the Council for Affordable Health Insurance and the HSA Leadership Council of America’s Health Insurance Plans. Neeleman holds a bachelor’s degree from Utah State University. He attended medical school at the University of Utah and completed his surgical training at the University of Arizona. He was also an assistant professor of surgery at the University of Arizona.
Aaron Skonnard: Skonnard is co-founder and CEO of Pluralsight, a technology workforce development company. He is also a co-founder and board member of Silicon Slopes, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting the Utah tech community. He received his Bachelor of Science from BYU.
Cydni Tetra: Tetro is CEO of Brandless, an omnichannel commerce platform. She is also an associate professor at BYU. She serves on the boards of SelectHealth, Intermountain Healthcare, Swire Coca-Cola and Utah Valley University and sits on the Governor’s Economic Forum. Tetro holds an MBA and a bachelor’s degree in computer science from BYU.