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DesRoches builds Rice’s senior leadership team

Photos courtesy Rice University

By Viola Hsia     8/23/22 11:39pm

The 2022-2023 school year brings with it not only a new president for Rice University, but also new leadership in other administrative positions. So far this year, the university has introduced five new members of administration: Omar Syed as vice president and general counsel, Paul Cherukuri as vice president of innovation, Ramamoorthy Ramesh as vice president of research, Kelly Fox as vice president of finance and administration and Paul Padley as vice president of information technology and chief information officer. Rice also named Amy Dittmar as the new provost.

According to President Reginald DesRoches, Fox’s and Cherukuri’s positions were newly created before the start of this semester, while Ramesh’s, Syed’s and Padley’s positions were pre-existing. Ramesh and Syed succeed former Vice President of Research Yousif Shamoo and former Vice President and General Counsel Richard Zansitis, respectively. 

“What impresses me about all of these new leaders of our university is that they’re not only extremely accomplished in their fields, they also share the values of Rice,” DesRoches said, “They all are about commitment to excellence in their respective areas as well as to the Rice community as a whole.”

DesRoches said that while the university consulted professional executive firms and committees made up of Rice faculty during the hiring processes, he made the final decisions.

“We looked for the best people for the job and for people who are collaborative and can embrace the Rice culture,” DesRoches said. “Rice has such an outstanding reputation. There’s never a shortage of stellar talent eager to join us.”

Padley has been doing research on experimental particle physics at Rice since 1994 and continues to do work on the CERN Large Hadron Collider to this day. 

“We know that there is a strong desire to expand the research enterprise on campus, so we will need to make sure we have the research computing infrastructure in place to support that,” Padley said. “Beyond that, we want to provide the best possible service to advance learning and scholarship on the campus.”

Ramesh, who currently has a joint appointment at the University of California, Berkeley, in physics and material science and who worked in the Obama administration as the director of an initiative to reduce solar energy costs, also put an emphasis on research at Rice when talking about his goals for his term.

“We will really put a lot of emphasis on research, scholarly work, solving big problems, doing great science, all of those. That was the main reason I signed on to this,” Ramesh said, “I think there’s this amazing opportunity to build something on the research side, so [the students] can do something great.”

Syed, an attorney who previously served the University of Texas system as  associate vice chancellor and deputy general counsel, further expressed the point on research, as well as building programs at both the graduate and undergraduate level.

“I am very excited about the unparalleled opportunity to help President DesRoches advance this first-class institution to a new level of distinction through impactful research, award-winning scholarship and insightful creative work, all while building Rice’s graduate programs and maintaining its excellent undergraduate programs,” Syed said. 

Syed said that while he is uncertain about changes he would make to an already successful university, he has plans outside of his official duties.

“I plan to be a daily fixture on the jogging trail around campus,” Syed said.

For the positions that were created this year, several of the vice presidents expressed their excitement at contributing something new to the university. Fox, who had previously served as vice president of finance and administration at Georgia Institute of Technology, talked about how her position will benefit Rice.

“[We are] bringing together the infrastructure side of the institution with the financial side,” Fox said. “You don’t do anything in [human resources] without thinking about finances, you don’t do things around facilities or capital without thinking about finances. Thinking of those things as an integrated support entity for the rest of the institution is really beneficial.”

Cherukuri, who previously was the executive director of the Institute of Biosciences and Bioengineering at Rice, as well as a former Rice graduate student, said that his goal as vice president of innovation is to give students the support to make their research a reality.

“It’s not about the paper. It’s about the actual technology that can actually go into somebody’s pocket or somebody’s lives to make it better,” Cherukuri said.

DesRoches said he feels confident about the positive changes the new additions to the Rice administration will bring to the university.

“I’m thrilled with the talent we have been able to recruit to Rice and the collaborative spirit and energy they all bring to their roles,” DesRoches said. “I’m looking forward to working with them.”

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