Terrence Cheng named president of CSCU system. Photo courtesy Southern Connecticut State University

Alumnus appointed president of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system

By Ashley A. Williams

Alumnus appointed president of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system

By Ashley A. Williams
Terrence Cheng, who earned a M.F.A. in fiction from the University of Miami and is currently director of the University of Connecticut’s Stamford campus, will begin his new post on July 2.

Newly appointed president of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system, Terrence Cheng, attributes one phone call that took place 26 years ago for changing the trajectory of his life. 

“I wouldn’t quite call it serendipity, but the stars certainly had a way of aligning,” said Cheng, who has been the director of the University of Connecticut’s Stamford campus since 2016 and is also an English professor there.   

Shortly after Cheng completed his undergraduate degree, he vacillated between two universities for graduate studies and wasn’t sure if Miami or Baltimore would be his home for the next two years. Unbeknownst to him, the then-director of the University of Miami’s Master of Fine Arts program called his mom to tout the benefits of being a Miami Hurricane. 

That conversation was the final push that allowed him to make his decision. He enrolled at the University in 1995.

Upon his admission, he was awarded the James Michener Fellowship and Teaching Assistantship, which included a full tuition waiver and an annual stipend. Cheng studied in the College of Arts and Sciences, receiving his master’s degree in fiction and poetry in 1997.

“When I look back, that opportunity really put me on the track that allowed me to make the progress that I’ve made through my career,” said Cheng, who was born in Taiwan and grew up on Long Island in New York. “That was a huge, huge decision for me, because the degree that I received from Miami is a terminal degree. Having that terminal degree allowed me to actually pursue teaching positions which allowed me to then move up through the ranks in academia and so forth.”

In a unanimous vote, Cheng was approved by the state Board of Regents for Higher Education to oversee the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system, which includes 17 campuses and serves more than 72,000 students. He will begin his presidency on July 2.

“It's surreal to think,” said Cheng. “I still remember—palpably—what it was like growing up as a first-generation student and as an immigrant child. I remember not having a whole lot of money, to be quite blunt. And then to be able to have a career in higher education, to be able to write, and now to be honored with the responsibility of now running a university feels crazy.”

While confronting COVID-19 presents a difficult time for educational institutions across the nation and students entering a challenging workforce, Cheng said he wants to be a reminder for first-generation college students everywhere that hard work and will pay off—even during a “massive disruption.”

“I cannot imagine what you all have gone through,” said Cheng, who firmly believes that adversity brings out who and what we are. “Continue to sell yourself properly, continue to train yourself, and prepare yourself properly because the dust will settle. And I think quality still shines through, even though our modalities and our systems and structures are going through an evolution right now.”

University of Miami President Julio Frenk congratulated Cheng on his new appointment via an email earlier this week, which Cheng described as a “real treat.”

“What I’ve always appreciated about Miami and the University is that you feel like you are part of something bigger than yourself,” said Cheng. “It's one of those things where you feel like you're carrying the honor and the respect of your institution—so don’t mess it up.”