The Indian-born engineer and scientist introduced to Carnegie Mellon University's campus Thursday for the first time as the school's president-elect told his audience he saw similarity between his personal journey and that of the institution he soon will lead.
Subra Suresh, 56, noted that the university's founder, Andrew Carnegie, came to this country as a boy and went on to become a leading industrialist and philanthropist.
"He symbolizes the American dream in many ways," said Mr. Suresh, currently director of the National Science Foundation in Washington, D.C. "And on a much smaller scale, I can say I have experienced that same spirit of the American dream."
Mr. Suresh, who becomes CMU's ninth president July 1, recalled how with money borrowed for a one-way ticket and with less than $100 in his pocket, he came to America to pursue graduate studies at Iowa State University.
"By now you have figured out why I speak with an Iowa accent," he said in a tongue-in-cheek remark that drew applause and laughter from nearly 450 faculty, students, staff and others inside Carnegie Mellon's McConomy Auditorium in the school's University Center.
Fast-forwarding to today, Mr. Suresh said that since news of his selection surfaced a couple weeks ago, "I have been inundated with such warmth and welcoming remarks from such a large fraction of the community, from the faculty to the students to the staff."
He reiterated his plan to embark on a months-long listening tour that will include open forums to get a sense of the varied perspectives that make up a major research university such as CMU.
Mr. Suresh said he first visited the campus in the early 1980s and has interacted with its students, faculty and others over the years in various capacities including editor-in-chief of a journal based on the campus and as chairman of a board of visitors at CMU about 12 years ago.
"I very much look forward to interacting with this community, getting to know this community that I have admired from afar for quite some time," he said.
The 35-minute welcoming event drew various leaders, including trustees chairman Ray Lane and James E. Rohr, who chaired the presidential search committee and is chairman and chief executive officer of PNC Financial Services Group.
The session began -- naturally -- with a bagpipe performance, befitting Carnegie Mellon's Scottish roots.
After applause and some opening remarks, CMU president Jared Cohon, a Cleveland native, recalled for the audience how his own introduction to campus 16 years ago in the same room turned briefly uncomfortable when he uttered words that were nothing short of sacrilege in Steelers Nation, telling the crowd back then that "you can take the boy out of Cleveland, but you can't take the Browns out of the boy."
The room 16 years ago fell silent.
"Never joke about the Steelers," Mr. Cohon quipped.
He then turned to his successor, noting that along with being NSF director, Mr. Suresh has worked at Brown University and MIT, something that suggests he might be a New England Patriots fan.
If that's true, Mr. Cohon told Mr. Suresh in a remark that drew laughter, "Don't ever admit it. It's Steelers."
Accompanying Mr. Suresh to the event were his wife, Mary, and two grown daughters, Nina and Meera.
Mr. Suresh praised Mr. Cohon's nearly 16-year tenure saying the institution was in wonderful shape.
Mr. Cohon acknowledged the transition is under way but also quipped, "I'm a lame duck but not a dead duck. I still have four months or so left."
Bill Schackner: email@example.com or 412-263-1977.