CENTRE COUNTY, Pa. (WTAJ) — Following a unanimous election, Penn State University is welcoming its 19th president, Dr. Neeli Bendapudi.

With a history of leadership in higher education, Bendapudi said it should come as no surprise that her priority is students.

“We are the place where every single student across all of our campuses knows that this is a place where they can leverage the transformative powers of higher education,” said Bendapudi.

The former University of Louisville president said she was attracted to Penn State because of its prominence across the state.

“The fact that 96% of Pennsylvanians live within 30 miles of one of our locations is truly extraordinary to me,” said Bendapudi.

She said she recognizes Penn State as an “economic engine.”

“I want to make sure that everybody in the commonwealth, whether they went to Penn State or not, wherever they are, they realize how critical Penn State is to the economic, social, cultural health of the commonwealth,” said Bendapudi.

In her first days as president, Bendapudi toured all 20 Penn State campuses.

“I also was able to see how critical they are to our land grant mission, which is social mobility and economic development and research that makes an impact,” said Bendapudi.

She said she recognizes each campus and surrounding community is unique, and provides diverse opportunities.

“The message I give to students usually is, ‘unpack’,” said Bendapudi. “By that I mean, truly make this home. Care about the community, be respectful, and learn as much as you can, make a difference right here.”

Bendapudi said she’s “collaborative to her core” and will follow her advice by becoming immersed in State College.

“I am someone who truly wants to be a part of the community,” said Bendapudi. “My grandson is going to be growing up here. My daughter and son-in-law are here. My mother is going to be here.”

In times of trial, Bendapudi said she hopes the community trusts her leadership.

“All you can do is build trust where you say, ‘Here is why I’m making the decisions that I’m making’,” said Bendapudi.

While she’s only getting started, Bendapudi said she hopes for a long, fulfilling tenure with a lasting legacy.

“Someone who left Penn State better than she found it, in every way,” said Bendapudi.

Penn State University’s 2022-2023 school year starts on August 22.