Michael Rao, Ph.D., became the fifth president of Virginia Commonwealth University and the VCU Health System in 2009 and has continued to cement VCU’s place among the nation’s premier urban, public research universities. Under the Quest for Distinction strategic plan, Rao is piloting strategic efforts focused on academic quality, student success, community engagement, and research that foster regional economic development and improve lives.
As president of VCU and the VCU Health System, Rao leads one of the nation’s premier urban, public research universities. Alongside a leading academic medical center that is the largest employer in the Richmond area, VCU and VCU Health account for more than 43,000 jobs state-wide. Rao is responsible for one of the nation’s most comprehensive academic health centers, which is ranked among the best hospitals in the country and, in July 2016, was named the No. 1 hospital in the Richmond metro area and No. 2 in Virginia by U.S. News & World Report. VCU’s community impact, both economic and cultural, continues to grow and is evident in many ways, including the university’s renowned athletics program, a surging School of Engineering and, coming soon, the landmark Institute for Contemporary Art.
Under Rao’s leadership, VCU’s place among national research universities continues to rise, with 32 graduate and first-professional programs ranked among the best in the nation by U.S. News & World Report, including the nation’s No. 1 sculpture and nurse anesthesia programs. He also has overseen one of the largest-ever expansions of VCU’s master site plan, including the Grace Street living-learning corridor, the James W. and Frances G. McGlothlin Medical Education Center, the Academic Learning Commons and an expansion of the James Branch Cabell Library. Completed in 2016, the outpatient Children’s Pavilion at Children’s Hospital at VCU opened with state-of-the-art facilities and is the only hospital in the region dedicated to children.
Rao has been in higher education administration for more than 20 years, beginning in California in 1992, when he became president of Mission College and was, for a time, 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.
Rao holds a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of South Florida and a Ph.D. in higher education from the University of Florida. He and his wife, Monica, a watercolorist and graphic designer, have two sons.