ORONO, Maine — Susan Hunter, the first female president in the University of Maine’s 150-year history, was formally welcomed to her post Thursday during an inauguration ceremony at the Collins Center for the Arts.

Hunter has been serving as president since July, when the previous president, Paul Ferguson, announced he was leaving to become president of Ball State University in Indiana.

She takes over during a dramatic, trying time for the University of Maine System and its seven campuses, including its flagship campus, Orono.

During her address, she cited Maine’s serious demographic and geographic challenges. The state’s universities are of vital importance to the state’s survival in the face of an aging population spread over a vast area and faltering traditional industries that will need to adapt to survive.

“UMaine stands ready to work with our sister campuses to meet Maine’s challenges,” Hunter told the crowd.

That will mean change, some of it drastic. The system has said it will not close campuses but will alter them, and that collaboration will be vital to the survival of the system and the state it helps support.

UMS Chancellor James Page laid out this vision in his One University initiative, a significant administrative restructuring and academic program overhaul aimed at making the system as a whole more fiscally solvent.

“The life of the university depends on the confidence and support of the people of Maine,” Page told Hunter during the ceremony, stressing the importance of the work she would continue to do for the next year and a half. “In all respects, it is the people’s business you do here. Your success is their success.”

The installation ceremony for the university’s 20th president capped off the campus’ Women in Leadership Week, featuring a series of events meant to reflect on the ways women have shaped UMaine and the community, as well as recognizing the challenges they faced in striving to do so, according to Jeff Hecker, UMaine executive vice president for academic affairs and provost.

Since September 2013, Hunter served as vice chancellor of academic affairs for the system. She began working at the Orono campus as a research associate in 1982 and became a full professor in the department of zoology in 1991. She also has worked as chairman of the department of biological sciences, dean of undergraduate admission and more recently as executive vice president of academic affairs and provost.

Hunter was hired last summer to serve a two-year term as the flagship campus’s president, which would end in July 2016. She’s expected to retire after that. During the second year of her term, there will be a national search for the university’s 21st president.

“This is a wonderful university and I am truly honored to serve as its president,” Hunter said after receiving her presidential medallion from Page.

Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.