Gov. McDonnell to Rao: “You’ve passed the test”

Michael Rao formally inaugurated as VCU’s fifth president

Gov. Bob McDonnell and United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan were both present to celebrate Rao's inauguration, which was two years after Rao began in his position as VCU's president. Photo by Brianna Townsend.

Mason Brown
Staff Writer

After a little more than two years, Michael Rao, Ph.D., has officially become the fifth president of Virginia Commonwealth University.

The event, held on Friday, Oct. 14, brought students, faculty and staff to the Siegel Center. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell were also present to witness the historical event for the school.

The event was a celebration of Rao and his accomplishments with the school as well as a celebration of VCU as an institution.

“What I can’t figure out is I got inaugurated, sworn in and started work on the same day,” Gov. McDonnell said about Rao’s wait to inauguration. “Here it’s like buying a used car – you have to take it on a two and a half year test drive … You’ve passed the test.”

Prior to VCU, Rao served as president of Central Michigan University for nine years. He has a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of South Florida and a Ph.D in education administration from University of Florida.

McDonnell, the father of a VCU graduate, focused primarily on VCU’s rise as a urban research campus when addressing attendees.

“I know that the real measure of success for (Rao) is the fact that VCU is increasingly becoming known as one of America’s premiere urban research universities,” McDonnell said.

This year’s inauguration also introduced a new VCU tradition – University Scholars. These students are academic juniors (though not necessarily in their third year at VCU) that hold a 3.3 grade point average or above.

“It’s a different perspective (than graduation),” Jason Gardner, a university scholar, said. “I have a deeper commitment to uphold the Ram standard of excellence (now).”

In his inaugural address that followed the formal recognition of University Scholars,  Rao was thankful to the Richmond community but also called them to action.

“Whether or not VCU lives up to its potential is up to the people of Richmond and Virginia,” he said. “No word spoken by me today will matter more than the actions we take tomorrow.”

Since Rao arrived at VCU in 2009, the university has been ranked in the top research category by the Carnegie Foundation. VCU already carried the same distinction with community engagement. It is one of only 28 public universities in the country with an academic medical center to have this dual distinction.

Rao also addressed his strategic plan, Quest for Distinction.

“We cannot afford after four years to send students back to parents to re-occupy their childhood bedrooms,” he said.

“Our driving purpose is for students to succeed. Once you are a part of VCU, you are always a part of VCU … Quest (for Distinction) puts the interest of students ahead of everything.”

Quest for Distinction was passed by the VCU Board of Visitors last semester. The university’s strategic plan sets priorities of academic excellence, research that enhances the quality of life, human health and well-being and contributions to the economic vitality and cultural richness of the community, according to Anne Buckley, director of communications and public relations for VCU.

“We will be exceptional. We will find the answers the state and nation needs,” Rao said.

Many of the university scholars took Rao’s inauguration as an inspirational moment as well as a challenge.

“I feel like I am definitely working towards the goals VCU (is) setting, and hopefully I’ll make VCU proud,” said university scholar Jacklyn McKay.

The inauguration was the main event during the two weeks of events at VCU that included a research lecture series, a university-wide food drive and student events that highlighted sustainability efforts at VCU. All the events were in honor of Rao’s inauguration.

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