As a young student in France, he had dreams of being one of the world's greatest mathematicians. Or, failing that, he would have settled for becoming president.
After Jean-Lou Chameau came to the United States in the 1970s to pursue his graduate education at Stanford University, he never did become a mathematician but eventually he did become president, although it was not the type he had envisioned.
Chameau took the reins of the California Institute of Technology in September, becoming the university's eighth president.
It was a journey that started in graduate school. While pursuing his doctorate in civil engineering, Chameau realized that the academic world was a good fit for him. He was weighing the prospects of a business career, but was offered a teaching job at Purdue University in 1980 and he jumped at the opportunity.
Over the next two and a half decades, Chameau found himself climbing the academic ranks, as he says, "totally by accident." A lot of hard work and a little luck propelled his ascent from professor to dean of the Georgia Institute of Technology's College of Engineering and to provost and vice president of academic affairs for the whole university. There he guided educational and research programs, while displaying his knack for fundraising.
It was also there that he met the woman he would marry. Carol Carmichael is a fellow academic and the two, who met when they were working on similar research projects, got married in 2000.
Now the 53-year-old Chameau, with a boyish charm and French accent, finds himself leading a university that, though small in size, has international renown.
Question: How has this new job in the early going been different from your previous job at Georgia Tech?
Answer: The main difference is that in my previous job it was mostly focused inside the university. I was the provost at Georgia Tech and the provost of the university is the person who's running the place running the operations, the academic programs, the research program, and so on. But when you're the president, the number of stakeholders increases dramatically. Basically, you're reporting to everybody you're reporting to the trustees, to the faculty, to the students, to the staff, to the parents, to the local community, and on and on.

Q: What does your outside work include?

A: Fundraising, building relationships with key stakeholders, promoting the university, building relationships with federal agencies and corporations and foundations. More than half of the budget of Caltech comes from federal research grants, so that gives you an example of the extent of the relationships.


For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.