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Fla. administrator named chancellor of UMass Dartmouth

Divina Grossman

Florida International University

Divina Grossman

The University of Massachusetts chose an outreach specialist and vice president at Florida International University on Thursday to lead its Dartmouth campus as chancellor, ending a year-long process that saw it replace three of its six leaders, including the system president.

A recent visit to Dartmouth left Divina Grossman “deeply inspired by everyone,’’ she said Thursday. “It’s very clear that the university is looked upon as a beacon of opportunity.’’

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At FIU, a public research university in Miami, Grossman, 55, oversees “engagement,’’ a field that involves forging partnerships with outside groups, such as businesses, nonprofits, and government bodies. Much of her work in that position has entailed making connections with local high schools and building up a collaborative biomedical science research cluster.

She said she was looking forward to deepening similar partnerships at UMass Dartmouth, particularly in the biological and marine sciences.

UMass board chairman James Karam had effusive praise for Grossman, whom the board voted unanimously to approve. “Fasten your seatbelts,’’ he said, “because when this gal comes aboard, she is a dynamo.’’

Before taking her current post, Grossman was dean of the university’s school of nursing and health sciences, and she holds a doctorate in nursing herself.

At a public meeting on the Dartmouth campus earlier this month, Grossman said she would focus on initiatives that would bring in grant money and internship opportunities.

‘When she walked into that room, she recharged each one of us.’

Keith Motley UMass Boston chancellor
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She also had a positive take on low college enrollment and graduation rates in the South Coast region, saying she viewed them as an opportunity.

But she did not hesitate to direct some gentle criticism at the university, noting that its stark concrete architecture is “a far cry from ivy-covered brick walls.

Grossman will take over from longtime Dartmouth chancellor Jean MacCormack shortly after the school year ends.

The Dartmouth campus has more than 40 undergraduate and 25 graduate degree programs, including four at the doctoral level. It has grown enormously under MacCormack - enrollment rose from 6,900 to 9,400, and the number of students living on campus almost doubled to 4,500. Research funding saw an even steeper rise from $7 million to $26 million.

In 2010, after a vicious political battle, UMass Dartmouth became home to the state’s first publicly funded law school, which has sought out accreditation this year under MacCormack’s watch.

“Jean is going to be a hard person to replace,’’ said Karam, likening her to “the Mother Teresa of the South Coast.

“She’s able to speak with a quiet voice, and she’s able to pound the table if necessary.’’

But board and search committee members also commended Grossman, with one likening her job interview to caffeine. “When she walked into that room,’’ said UMass Boston chancellor Keith Motley, a search committee member, “she recharged each one of us.’’

Grossman is expected to visit the campus again in a week.

The initial field of candidates to run the university was crowded, with 129 people sending in applications. Six finalists visited campus in late March and early April.

But two - both presidents of mid-size public schools in other states - dropped out early this week, a phenomenon typical in large presidential searches when candidates assess their chances as slim or are offered jobs elsewhere. A third, Mary Grant, president of the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, dropped out very recently.

That left Grossman; Daniel Julius, vice president for academic affairs at the University of Alaska; and Maurice Scherrens, a senior vice president at George Mason University.

Mary Carmichael can be reached at mary.carmichael@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @mary_carmichael.
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