COEUR d'ALENE — Scott Green left Idaho in a Dodge Omni hatchback to attend business school at Harvard.
His heartstrings pulling him back west, and he’s returned to the state after a successful career in New York. On July 1, Green became the University of Idaho's 19th president and the fourth full-time leader since 2009. He replaced Chuck Staben, whose contract ended June 15.
Green grew up in Moscow, hung out in the university's iconic Memorial Gym while his father attended law school and earned a bachelor's degree in accounting in 1984.
Those roots bore gold and silver fruit when he was approached to throw his hat into the ring for the president's job.
"It was a huge career change," Green said Wednesday at UI's Coeur d'Alene branch in the Harbor Center.
Rather than continuing to focus on making the international law firm Hogan Lovells more profitable as its global chief operating and financial officer, Green opted for the opportunity to help change students' lives.
"This was more of a mission," he said.
Green, a fourth-generation Idahoan, said returning was emotional.
"It felt like coming home," he said. "That's why I took the job."
UI mascot Joe Vandal is with Green everywhere he drives: His personal truck, a gold and black Ford F-150, has Joe and UI locations on its side.
"I'm committed to Coeur d'Alene," he said, referring to the UI's branch location. "I want people to know I'm in town."
Green foresees UI expanding its computer science program in Coeur d'Alene and exploring more partnerships with North Idaho College in fields such as engineering.
Charles Buck, UI associate vice president and CEO of the Coeur d'Alene branch, said it was nice having Green's unique perspective and Vandal pride.
"We have to own this area, and Scott recognizes that," Buck said. "This is Vandal country. We're excited to have Scott on board."
With a frequent change in leadership in recent years, Green, who will make $420,000 per year, said UI's faculty and staff deserve stability.
"We're blessed to have incredible faculty and staff despite the interruptions," he said. "It's important that I recognize that."
Green said he's not proposing a strategic plan overhaul.
"Frankly, I believe people have had enough," he said. "There's way too many metrics."
Green said he instead wants to focus on three areas — student success, research and telling the university's story.
Only 44.6 percent of the state's high school graduates went straight to college last fall.
"When the unemployment rate is as low as ours, we need every student we can get in the system," he said. "That's truly what a land-grant university's mission is."
Protecting UI's distinction of having two out of three undergraduates in applied research is also critical, Green said.
"The work we do is important," he said.
UI operates a research park in Post Falls and several extension offices statewide.
With UI's enrollment decrease of 2.6 percent last year, Green said outreach needs improvement.
"Our story needs to be told," he said. "It's disappointing to hear that UI isn't in the conversation any more in many communities. We have world-class programs, but my job is to have our story told in every community.
"I've had students come to me and tell me they found the university by accident. We can't have that happen."
Green cited the Dragonfly mission envisioned by UI associate professor Jason Barnes to launch a robotic rotorcraft lander to Saturn's moon Titan as an example of stories that need to be told. The project has been selected by NASA for launch.
The barriers for students not attending college are widespread, Green said, but all need to be addressed. Green himself had financial difficulties while attending UI before being assisted by fraternity brothers, a dean who found him a job and scholarships from names he didn't recognize.
"If it wasn't for teachers simply taking students under their wings during the application process, some of those kids would've been lost," he said. "It's going to be different for a student in southwest Idaho than one working on a farm in Bonneville County. We're a complex state, and the story is going to be slightly different in every county."
Green wrote two books on the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, a federal law that established sweeping auditing and financial regulations for public companies. He holds a master's degree in business administration from Harvard.
He said there are similarities to leading a business and a university. Collaboration is key in both cases, he said.
"I can't tell faculty what to do, but I can try to convince them on what is right for the institution and work with me on moving forward," he said. "I bring that skillset."
Green said another priority is improving the sports program, particularly on the men's side.
"A lot of alumni would like to see us go back up into a different division [in football], but we've got to be competitive in the league [Big Sky Conference] we're in before any dreams of moving anywhere," he said.
Athletic success is critical to the university, Green said. He is the grandson of Leon "Doc" Green, the athletic director who raised money for the Kibbie Dome and a former Vandal football player.
Green said UI's new athletic director is expected soon, possibly this month.
"That is one of my highest priorities," he said. "We need to address the culture."
Rob Spear, the previous athletic director, was fired last August.
Pete Isakson, the associate athletic director for revenue, has served as interim athletic director.
Green said he looks forward to working with other presidents across the state. Marlene Tromp was named Boise State University's president in April, while Kevin Satterlee joined Idaho State University and Cynthia Pemberton Lewis-Clark State College last year.
"It's a new day," Green said. "We have no baggage of the past. It's an opportunity to work together. We need to approach some issues as a group, not as an institution."