Florida State University began a new chapter in its history Monday as Richard McCullough began his tenure as the university’s 16th president.
McCullough, who served as vice provost for research at Harvard University since 2012, spent his first day meeting with senior staff, monitoring a tropical storm, greeting the media and getting settled in his new office in the Westcott Building.
“I’m extremely thrilled to be a part of the Florida State family,” McCullough said. “As I’ve said before, it feels like people really like each other here and are very proud to be part of Florida State. My wife, Jai, and I are very, very happy to be welcomed into that family and lead it to the next level.”
The Florida Board of Governors unanimously confirmed McCullough’s selection in June after a months-long search. He succeeds John Thrasher, who had held the post since 2014.
McCullough’s been preparing for the transition over the past two months by meeting with key stakeholders to hear their perspective and feedback on the challenges and opportunities that they see at Florida State.
His first hurdle was Mother Nature as Tropical Storm Fred hit the Big Bend area Monday, but Fred could not dampen McCullough’s first-day enthusiasm.
“It’s Florida in August,” he said. “I’m happy that it’s not a full-fledged hurricane. I just hope everyone stays safe, and we don’t feel the absolute brunt of it. It’s always good to live an interesting life so having a tropical storm on your first day definitely adds to the workload.”
In between storm briefings, McCullough enjoyed an eventful first day on the job.
“I’ve been very busy already,” he said. “There’s a lot of activity. It’s a big place with lots of important things going on, and I’m just glad to be here to lead it. It’s been awesome — I’m having a great time already.”
As president, McCullough said engaging with the students is what he is most excited about. On Sunday, he drove his golf cart around campus to stop and say hello to students moving into the residence halls and their families.
“I was having the time of my life doing that,” McCullough said.
Prior to joining FSU, McCullough had served as vice provost for research and professor of materials science and engineering at Harvard University since 2012. In this role, he oversaw the development, review and implementation of strategies, planning, and policies related to academic research. In addition, he led an office of Foundation and Corporate Engagement and assisted in the oversight of more than 25 interdisciplinary institutes, centers and initiatives across the university.
During his tenure, McCullough successfully built and launched the new Harvard Data Science Initiative, a collaboration between 12 of the university’s schools and more than 120 faculty, which led to the creation of three new master’s programs and many new undergraduate courses.
McCullough developed and launched a new structural biology program and cryo-electron microscope facility that partners Harvard Medical School with three Boston-area hospitals. He also led the development of a new $100 million, multi-institution collaboration to build the Advanced Biological Innovation and Manufacturing Center and Facility, which will be a hub for medical research and education, as well as economic and workforce development.
Previously, McCullough spent 22 years at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, where he began his academic career as an assistant professor of chemistry in 1990 and became the Thomas Lord Professor of Chemistry in 2009. He was promoted to head of the chemistry department in 1998 and then served as dean of the Mellon College of Science from 2001 to 2007 before becoming the university’s vice president for research.
McCullough, who holds multiple patents and is the founder of two companies, has a rich background in entrepreneurship and innovation. At Carnegie Mellon, he developed a vibrant innovation ecosystem, including the Greenlighting Start-ups Initiative that exponentially increased the generation of university spin-out companies and corporate engagement. In 2013, he was elected a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors.
A staunch champion of diversity, McCullough created a diverse pipeline of Black/African American, Laxtinx and other underrepresented minority academics from both his research lab and as the founding creator of the Future Faculty Workshop: Diverse Leaders of Tomorrow, an annual workshop that helps diverse postdoctoral fellows and students obtain academic jobs. Now in its 15th year, the workshop has facilitated placing more than 50 underrepresented minority professors in the United States.
McCullough is the author of numerous peer-reviewed articles and serves on the editorial boards of several academic journals, including Advanced Materials. He has been an innovation, entrepreneurship, and technology transfer advisor to Oxford University, Princeton University and Washington University at St. Louis.
A first-generation college student from Mesquite, Texas, McCullough attended Eastfield Community College before earning a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of Texas at Dallas in 1982 and a doctoral degree in organic chemistry from Johns Hopkins University in 1988. McCullough also spent two years as a postdoctoral fellow at Columbia University in New York.
He and his wife, Jai Vartikar, have two children, Jason and Dylan, daughter-in-law, Sarah Christian, and two granddaughters, Gladys and Archer.