Pride, vision, opportunity
With the pomp, circumstance and pageantry befitting a formal academic ceremony, Ali A. Houshmand accepted the presidency of Rowan University during an inauguration ceremony on Friday, Sept. 20, in Wilson Hall’s Pfleeger Concert Hall.
“Today we inaugurate a great leader, a great visionary,” Board of Trustees Chairman Linda Rohrer said as she placed the presidential medallion around Houshmand’s neck during the investiture portion of the 90-minute ceremony. Houshmand, 58, is the seventh president in the 90-year history of the University.
He already has “shepherded Rowan University through a period of remarkable opportunity, growth and achievement”…and there’s more to come, Rohrer said.
“This is undoubtedly the most exciting period in our history since Henry and Betty Rowan donated $100 million to this school in 1992,” Rohrer said. “Dr. Houshmand is leading us with vigor, inspiring us with dreams.”
A packed audience of well-wishers that included University benefactor Henry Rowan, Rowan’s fourth president Dr. Mark Chamberlain, state and local officials, University faculty, administrators, students, staff, alumni, donors and community members came together to witness history and to heartily applaud Houshmand’s ascension to the presidency.
Houshmand takes the helm during a period of unprecedented transformation at Rowan. Much of that growth is a direct result of his ambition and vision as Rowan’s provost and interim president. Houshmand, who grew up in Iran, joined Rowan in 2006 as provost and was named interim president in 2011. He was named president last year.
As the inauguration ceremony began, Houshmand walked on stage with his wife, Farah, to a thundering, two-minute standing ovation. Both gestured to their hearts in signs of appreciation as the crowd continued its applause. Finally, the crowd quieted and Houshmand quietly began to speak.
“My name,” he said, “is Ali Houshmand. And I am the seventh president of Rowan University.”
With that, the new president outlined his ambitious plan for the future of the University. But first, he thanked the audience and the University community. Then, he spoke of his path to the presidency.
A dream achieved
“Fifty years ago, as a boy in Iran, I could not imagine this moment,” he said, detailing a childhood of poverty similar to the one depicted in the movie, “Slumdog Millionaire.”
“Indeed, I could not imagine being named a president of anything, let alone a university in the greatest country in the world. What I did imagine was working hard to achieve a dream.”
That dream—of an affordable college education, of working hard to gain success, of achieving against great odds—is the dream of so many young people today, he said.
Houshmand embodies that spirit. He worked his way through college by frying chicken at KFC franchise in the United Kingdom, and came to the United States to pursue his own American dream. An engineer, he holds a bachelor’s degree, two master’s degrees and a doctorate, earned from his beloved University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.
Pillars of the future
The University’s future is built on four pillars, Houshmand noted: access to education, quality of education, affordability, and serving as an economic engine in South Jersey.
“Our goal is not only succeed here in South Jersey but to also serve as a model for other schools in our backyard and across our country,” he said, reminding the audience that Rowan began as a teacher training college just nine decades ago. Today, it is a comprehensive university with two medical schools, graduate schools, and a nationally ranked College of Engineering.
“Many of the University’s major strides have come in just the last 20 years, he said. “And the last year alone has seen changes that will impact our school and our state for generations.
“Only an extraordinary institution can reach our level in 90 years. Only a dynamic institution can lead.”
Saluting the new president
Before Houshmand delivered his own inaugural address, Rohrer, Secretary of Higher Education Rochelle Hendricks, State Senate President Steve Sweeney, Alumni Association President David Burgin, University Senate President Bill Freind and Student Government Association President Surbhi Pathak all saluted the new president.
Each speaker lauded Houshmand for his vision, ambition, intelligence, leadership, creativity, dedication and passion.
Referring to Houshmand as “a dynamo for transformative change” who exhibits “dignity and laser focus,” Hendricks said Houshmand’s “grace and grit” were most evident over the past year and a half, when Rowan integrated the School of Osteopathic Medicine in Stratford (now RowanSOM) as part of the New Jersey Medical and Health Sciences Education Act.
Under the act, which went into effect July 1, Rowan became the second comprehensive public research university in the state and also integrated SOM’s Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. Additionally, Rowan is collaborating with Rutgers-Camden to establish a College of Health Sciences in the city.
With the integration of RowanSOM, Rowan became only the second institution in the nation to have both M.D.- and D.O.-granting medical schools. In 2012, Rowan launched Cooper Medical School of Rowan University (CMSRU) in Camden, the first new medical school in the state in more than 35 years.
RowanSOM was formerly part of the University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey in Stratford and its Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences became part of Rowan when the New Jersey Medical and Health Sciences Education Act went into effect.
Between the two medical schools, Rowan is educating more than 700 aspiring physicians.
Houshmand keenly understands the role that institutions of higher learning can play in transforming regional economies, both Hendricks and Sweeney said.
“We couldn’t have a stronger person at the right time at the right place to recreate the economy of South Jersey,” said Sweeney, a key architect of the New Jersey Medical and Health Sciences Education Act.
Houshmand, Sweeney said, “sees things that aren’t there yet…things that don’t exist, but could. We’re very fortunate to have a great leader in Dr. Houshmand. Higher education is the greatest equalizer in this country and in this world.”
In the next 10 years, Houshmand is working to increase Rowan’s campus to 25,000 students, improve diversity, quadruple research funding to $100 million annually, increase Rowan’s endowment to $500 million, expand academic offerings in in-demand areas such as science, technology, business, engineering and medicine, and increase Rowan’s operating budget to $1 billion, a move that would significantly impact the state’s economy.
Throughout the ceremony, the audience rose to its feet four times in appreciation of Houshmand’s vision—and of his accomplishments already at Rowan. The president ended his remarks with a nod to the University’s 14,000 students.
“I am honored,” he said, “to have a part in the education of some remarkable students. In their faces, I see my own son and daughter. In their faces, I see our collective future. And I love them all.”
Senior Jessica Healey knows that first hand. Healey, a biological sciences major, serves as the student trustee on Rowan’s Board of Trustees. During the ceremony, Healey presented the presidential medallion to Rohrer during the investiture.
“I felt incredible pride,” said Healey of her thoughts as she presented the presidential medallion to Rohrer, who placed it around Houshmand’s neck. “It’s an honor to have a president that is so passionate about his commitment to students.
“In meetings, I get to see Dr. Houshmand advocating for students relentlessly. We’re always the first thing on his mind.”