President Smatresk Bio

President Neal Smatresk

President Neal Smatresk with his wife, Debbie Smatresk. Read her bio.

16th president of the University of North Texas, one of the nation's largest universities

President Neal J. Smatresk (pronounced SMAH tresk) joined UNT in 2014 with a vision for leading the University of North Texas to national prominence as the largest, most comprehensive university dedicated to meeting the needs of the dynamic North Texas region.

Since his arrival, UNT has been named a Tier One research university by the Carnegie Classification, grown in enrollment to serve more than 39,000 students including 93 National Merit Finalists — up from a class of four — and seen 77 of its 230 academic programs ranked among the nation's Top 100.

In addition, President Smatresk has worked to expand the university’s services in Collin County by opening a location in Frisco, the second fastest growing city in the nation. Last year, UNT announced a partnership with the City of Frisco and its Frisco Economic and Community Development Corporations that makes way for what ultimately will be a campus to serve at least 5,000 students in Collin County, providing higher education and research opportunities for future generations.

President Smatresk has created important new public-private partnerships with businesses like Toyota, which has been key to helping the university improve its processes and infrastructure so that our students and partners have a seamless, positive experience when doing business with the university. UNT’s partnership with NetDragon, a Chinese technology conglomerate, will be foundational in UNT’s growth as a next-generation research university leading the way in educational innovation. UNT’s partnership with the Dallas Cowboys is a shining star for the kinds of unique opportunities our students have with some of the world’s biggest brands.

Professional Background

Before joining UNT, President Smatresk led the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, as president for five years and provost for two years. Under his direction, UNLV:

  • Completed a $537 million fundraising campaign that included creating UNLV’s largest active scholarship program.
  • Established an Academic Success Center to help students graduate on time.
  • Opened Brookings Mountain West in partnership with the prestigious Brookings Institution.
  • Gained approval for a medical school.

Prior to UNLV, President Smatresk was vice chancellor for academic affairs and deputy to the chancellor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa from 2004 to 2007. During his tenure, Manoa:

  • Entered the ranks of the top 25 federally funded institutions.
  • Gained three National Academy of Sciences members.
  • Received recognition from the Chinese Ministry of Education as a Confucius Institute.

President Smatresk started his academic career at the University of Texas at Arlington and spent 22 years there, serving as:

  • Dean of Science, 1998-2004
  • Chair of the Department of Biology, 1994-1998
  • Professor of Biology, 1982-2004
Research Background

A biologist and researcher by training, President Smatresk has devoted much of his career to supporting K-20 science outreach programs and STEM development.

As a biologist, he concentrated his research on gaining a better understanding of how the respiratory neurobiology of vertebrates changed in the evolutionary transition from water to air breathing. His research has garnered substantial grant support and has resulted in more than 50 papers and book chapters, and grants from the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health. President Smatresk also has received a number of teaching awards. His undergraduate alma mater, Gettysburg College, awarded him a Distinguished Alumni of the Year Award in 2011.

Academic Background
  • B.A., Biology, Gettysburg College, 1973
  • M.A., Biology, State University of New York at Buffalo, 1978
  • Ph.D., Zoology, University of Texas at Austin, Port Aransas Marine Laboratory, 1980
  • Postdoctoral Trainee, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, 1980-1982
  • North Texas Commission Board, 2014-present
  • Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce, 2014-present
  • Denton Chamber of Commerce, 2014-present
  • Denton Economic Development Partnership Board, 2014-present
  • UNT Professional Development Institute, 2014-present
  • KERA Board of Directors, 2016-2019
  • Conference USA Board of Directors, 2019-present
  • NCAA Board of Directors, 2020-present

President Smatresk and his wife, Debbie, have been married since 1978. Read her bio.

About UNT

Located in one of the nation’s largest, fastest-growing metropolitan areas, UNT is home to 39,000 students and 230 degree programs. Founded in 1890, the university is now one of the nation’s largest public research universities and generates an economic impact of $1.65 billion in Dallas-Fort Worth annually. UNT also is one of the state’s Top 5 universities for the number of degrees awarded annually, with 9,465 degrees awarded in 2017-18. As a university with a global reach, UNT serves 2,500 international students representing 145 countries. UNT’s global alumni network has 434,000 members. 

UNT’s distinguished faculty includes internationally recognized researchers, scholars and artists include:

  • Two members of the National Academy of Inventors
  • One member of the National Academy of Sciences
  • One member of the National Academy of Engineering
  • One member of the National Academy of Public Administration Fellows
  • One member of the National Academy of Kinesiology
  • One member of the National Academy of Neuropsychology
  • 12 NSF CAREER Award recipients
  • 2016 Texas State Artist
  • Grammy, Emmy and Pulitzer Prize winners and nominees

A Division I school, UNT raised its athletic profile during the 2017-18 season when the Mean Green had the winningest season in 40 years, when volleyball and soccer won conference championships, the Mean Green football team played in the New Orleans Bowl and men's basketball won the College Basketball Invitational tournament. UNT Athletics is focused on building champions and preparing leaders. UNT Athletics has 16 NCAA Division I teams competing in Conference USA, including football, basketball, cross country, golf, soccer, softball, swimming and diving, tennis, track and field, and volleyball. The Mean Green have earned 127 conference championships and four national championships.