SJU gets first president from outside the church

By Kelsey Durham

History was made at St. John’s University in Jamaica last week when for the first time the Vincentian institution named a new president who is not a priest.

The university announced April 10 that Dr. Conrado M. Gempesaw will take over as the school’s new leader this year. Gempesaw, currently serving as the provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at Miami University in Ohio, will begin his term as SJU’s 17th president July 1.

Gempesaw was chosen by a 13-member committee that conducted a nationwide search to fill a vacancy left by the Rev. Donald Harrington, who retired last May before he was absolved of accusations that he and his chief of staff allegedly misused university funds.

The Rev. Joseph L. Levesque was named as interim president while a search was taking place.

Gempesaw has more than 30 years of experience in college administrative positions, also holding several leadership positions at the University of Delaware before he joined the staff at Miami University, St. John’s said.

He spent time as dean of the Lerner College of Business and Economics after previously serving in various other positions, including interim dean for the College of Arts and Sciences, vice provost for academic programs and planning and acting associate provost for international programs and special sessions.

“Dr. Gempesaw brings an impressive record of academic achievement, administrative excellence and the ability to inspire students, faculty, alumni and administrators,” said Peter D’Angelo, chairman of SJU’s board of trustees. “In Dr. Gempesaw, we have found a visionary leader who understands and embraces St. John’s’ mission as a Catholic and Vincentian university and has the skills necessary to realize our goals for the future.”

Gempesaw earned a Ph.D. in agricultural economics from Penn State University as well as a master’s in agricultural economics from West Virginia University. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in economics from Ateneo de Davao University in the Philippines, his home country.

Gempesaw and his wife, Clavel, have two sons, Daniel and David. Daniel earned dual bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and economics from the University of Delaware and received his master’s from Georgia Tech. David has a bachelor’s degree in accounting and finance from the University of Delaware and is currently working on his master’s degree at Miami University.

Gempesaw and his wife are members of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Oxford, Ohio.

St. John’s said in an e-mail to its campus community last week that Gempesaw would be making several visits to the university over the next few months before officially taking office, giving students and faculty the opportunity to meet and get to know him better.

“I am deeply honored to have been chosen to lead St. John’s University during this transformational time and grateful for the confidence and support of everyone who participated in the search process,” Gempesaw said in a statement. “With its diverse and accomplished students, exceptional faculty, devoted alumni, dedication to service and commitment to the poor that is grounded in its Catholic and Vincentian history, St. John’s has become one of New York’s most enduring institutions through its mission to provide a world-class, affordable education.”

Reach reporter Kelsey Durham at 718-260-4573 or by e-mail at kdurham@cnglocal.com.

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