Oct. 24, 2022
VCU president receives prestigious alumni award from University of South Florida
Michael Rao, Ph.D., a native of Dade City, Florida, said he gained the confidence to learn and solve difficult problems at USF, where he earned a degree in chemistry in 1987.
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Virginia Commonwealth University President Michael Rao, Ph.D., has been named a recipient of the University of South Florida’s 2022 USF Alumni Award, which recognizes alumni who have achieved the pinnacle of success in their careers.
“It’s not an exaggeration to say I would not be where I am or who I am without the University of South Florida, and the people here,” Rao said while accepting the honor this month. “I grew up not that far away, in Dade City – very small at the time, very rural. I didn’t know anyone who had gone to college, and no one understood why I would want to.”
He recalled how no one had prepared him for college, but he was embraced by USF’s nurturing environment. The university transformed his life, he said, providing him with a supportive environment in which he learned to conduct research and gained the confidence to learn and synthesize complex topics.
“That confidence that I could learn and solve difficult problems, that made all the difference. And that has shaped my life ever since. It’s why I stayed in school. It’s why I gravitated toward higher education as a career,” he said. “And it’s why I was drawn to Virginia Commonwealth University, which is very similar to USF. I really want us to be the model of a publicly accessible research university.”
Rao, who graduated from USF with a degree in chemistry in 1987, began his career in higher education in California in 1992, when he became president of Mission College. At the time, he was the youngest college president in the nation. He went on to serve as chancellor of Montana State University – Northern and president of Central Michigan University.
In 2009, Rao became the fifth president of VCU and VCU Health System. Under his leadership, VCU has reduced the graduation gap for underrepresented populations, educating and graduating more Pell-eligible and first-generation students than its counterparts in Virginia while achieving national prominence for exemplary academics, creativity, research and innovation.
In announcing its 2022 Alumni Award recipients, USF recognized Rao and two other alums as “renowned graduates who became groundbreaking standard-bearers in their respective fields.” Presented by the USF Alumni Association since 1976, the Distinguished Alumni awards are the highest honors bestowed upon former students for professional achievement. Two service awards confer USF’s highest honors for former students and non-alumni who’ve demonstrated outstanding dedication and service to USF and the Tampa Bay area.
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