By Svea Herbst-Bayliss
BOSTON (Reuters) - The first female president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Susan Hockfield, said on Thursday she was stepping down to make way for someone else to lead a major fund-raising drive at the renowned university.
Hockfield, a neuroscientist, was appointed to the top post at the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based institute in 2004 and has pushed the school to blend research in engineering and the physical sciences with research in the life sciences.
She also oversaw a fundraising campaign during which MIT raised nearly $3 billion and its endowment grew by 65 percent to $9.7 billion. At the same time, she helped boost the number of female students and minorities at the university.
As MIT readies plans to raise more money, Hockfield, 60, said it was time to leave.
"A campaign of this scale will require the full focus and sustained attention of the Institute's president over many years. I have concluded that it would be best for the Institute to begin this next chapter with new leadership," she said in a statement.
Since the financial crisis, universities have had a harder time raising substantial sums of money from alumni and other donors. Meanwhile, investment returns have shrunk.
When Hockfield was appointed she joined a small but growing circle of women running some of America's foremost universities including Drew Faust at Harvard and Ruth Simmons at Brown. Simmons will step down at the end of the academic year in May.
In 2004 women represented 42 percent of MIT's undergraduates. Now the graduating class of 2015 will have 45 percent women and 24 percent under-represented minorities, MIT said.
Under her leadership, MIT announced plans for MITx, a platform that will allow students around the world to use simulated labs and take tests online and eventually earn a certificate from the university.
Hockfield also cultivated strong ties to the manufacturing industry, serving as a board member at General Electric. Last year the Obama administration tapped her to co-chair its "Advanced Manufacturing Partnership" with Dow Chemical Co's chief executive Andrew Liveris.
On the school's Cambridge campus, Hockfield was well-liked, and the news surprised many.
"I remember when she interviewed for the job, she went up to some students and said 'You obviously love MIT, tell me why.' That so impressed the admissions committee that she got three extra points for that," said Howard Anderson a senior lecturer at the MIT Entrepreneurship Center.
Hockfield said she would continue as president until a successor is found and takes office.
(Reporting By Svea Herbst-Bayliss with additional reporting by Scott Malone and Jim Finkle; Editing by Xavier Briand)