Daniele Struppa is a mountain climber, a professor who explores Renaissance paintings and a father who talks to his 12-year-old about antibiotics and atoms.
And on Friday, Chapman University will officially welcome the mathematician as its 13th president.
Struppa said he will challenge himself to “create a place where marvel and wonder is sustained. I think it’s so special to find engaged learners who have the ability to keep asking questions. Look into the mind of a child — it’s a beautiful thing.”
A former Chapman chancellor and provost, Struppa’s ascension coincides with the school’s jump to No. 6 in its regional category in the 2017 edition of “America’s Best Colleges” published by U.S. News & World Report.
Outgoing President James Doti said that two and a half years ago, when he decided he would retire at 70, he suggested to the Board of Trustees that Struppa, 61, should be his successor. They eventually took the idea to the faculty for a vote.
“So many colleges and universities bring in an outsider when they don’t know if that person really understands the culture and ethos. They take a big risk,” Doti said. “But when you promote an internal candidate, it’s saying that you respect those inside your organization — that you’re building an environment where people can move forward.”
He said he likes Struppa’s sense of humor, his candor and the fact that he continues to teach while juggling so many responsibilities.
Struppa, born in Milan of Sicilian ancestry, is a graduate of the University of Milan and later earned his doctorate at the University of Maryland in College Park. He has four children, ages 9 to 31. A prolific author, he’s written a book on fundraising and scaled mountains in Europe, Africa and South America.
He describes mathematics as “not something just for a few nerds. It has depth.”
Struppa said that in the last few years Chapman has made strides in the study of health sciences, with a separate campus in Irvine that houses the university’s School of Pharmacy, a doctoral program in physical therapy and a physician’s assistant program. The university is constructing a $130-million science building on the northeast side of the main Orange campus, which at 140,000 square feet would make it the largest structure at Chapman.
Doti credits Struppa with recruiting Vernon L. Smith, a Nobel laureate in economics, to Chapman along with Yakir Aharonov, a National Medal of Science winner in physics.
“We’ve gone from a small liberal arts college to a well-recognized regional school. He can bring us to the next rung where we’ll be considered a significant national university along the same lines of a Tufts, a Tulane or a Vanderbilt,” Doti said.
Annabell Liao, the student body president, said she appreciates Struppa’s role in launching Chapman’s Diversity Project, a volunteer initiative uniting students, staff, faculty, administrators and trustees for dialogue on equity and inclusion on campus.
“It makes a big difference when you have an outlet to talk about these things,” said Liao, a senior majoring in creative producing. She said a cross-cultural center would open on the Chapman campus in spring.
“When he and other leaders say they want to have a student-centered university, they are acting on their goals,“ Liao said.