Michael Rao

Photograph of speaker Michael Rao.

President of Virginia Commonwealth University

Michael Rao, Ph.D. serves as the fifth president of Virginia Commonwealth University and VCU Health System. He is also a tenured professor in the VCU College of Health Professions.

Under President Rao’s leadership, 26 graduate schools and programs are ranked in the top 50 in the nation by U.S. News & World Report; sponsored research reached $363 million in 2021, a record-breaking amount for VCU; and 4- and 6- year graduation rates of 44% and 66% are above the national average for public universities.

With Rao as leader, VCU is among the few U.S. institutions that are both a Carnegie Foundation-designated R1 doctoral university and have community engagement status. VCU Health System is a safety-net health system that is also the region’s level one trauma center and one of the few providing tertiary and quaternary levels of care. VCU Medical Center is ranked the No. 1 hospital in Richmond and is among the top 100 hospitals in the nation. Additionally, VCUarts Qatar — located in Doha’s Education City — is internationally recognized for excellence in art and design.

President Rao’s mission to put students and patients first is reflected in VCU’s recalibrated strategic plan, Quest 2028. Revised to meet the needs of the VCU community post-pandemic, the plan allows the university to better meet the needs of the university and academic medical community. It is focused on improving the experience of students and patients, strengthening educator and researcher compensation, and increasing national prominence through research.

Rao serves as chair of the Virginia Bio+Tech Partnership Authority, which is focused on expanding the region’s pharmaceutical manufacturing capabilities. He is a board member with the Coalition of Urban Serving Universities, for whom he serves as its representative for the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities. Rao is a member of the senior executive advisory committee for the Northern Virginia Technology Council, a trade association dedicated to advancing the region’s efforts as a global leader in technology. He serves as chair for the American Council on Education, a national organization of higher education leaders focused on shaping policy that supports students and serves the public good. He is past chair of the Virginia Council of Presidents, a consortium of leaders serving the commonwealth’s colleges and universities.

President Rao holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of South Florida and a Ph.D. from the University of Florida. Rao’s career in higher education began in California in 1992, when he became president of Mission College. He went on to serve as chancellor of Montana State University – Northern and president of Central Michigan University.

He and his wife, Monica — a watercolorist and graphic designer — have two sons.