John Kelly, a vice president at Clemson University in South Carolina, will be Florida Atlantic University's next president.
The Board of Trustees on Friday selected Kelly, 59, over two other finalists, Christopher Earley and former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux.
"This a new era, and I'm elated to be here," Kelly said Friday evening. "I'm ready to roll up my sleeves and get to work."
Kelly said he was impressed by what he saw during his visit to FAU's campuses this week, which included open forums with students and faculty. He said he was especially impressed that the Jupiter campus is home to biotech researchers Scripps Florida and the Max Planck Florida Institute.
"No one else in the country has that," he said. "These are incredible assets that are somewhat hidden from a national audience. I think the Jupiter campus could be developed into a national model."
Kelly now oversees Clemson's economic development efforts, including the agricultural extension services for South Carolina. He said he's helped the university raise $750 million as part of its current $1 billion capital campaign. Clemson has the fourth-highest rate of alumni giving in the country; FAU has the lowest in Florida, at 1 percent.
Kelly manages a $90 million budget with more than 900 employees, according to his Clemson biography.
A native of South Carolina, Kelly said he helped Clemson boost its academic standing, where it's now ranked the 21st best public university in the country, according to U.S. News & World Report.
He said the university this year received 19,000 applications for 3,200 spots.
"I think his experience at Clemson is going to translate very well here," said Anthony Barbar, chairman of the Board of Trustees. "He has a sense of urgency and passion."
Kelly is FAU's seventh president. He succeeds Mary Jane Saunders, who resigned in May following a series of religious, academic and fundraising controversies.
FAU has had four presidents in 12 years, and some faculty have complained that the frequent turnover has been unsettling.
"I plan to be here for a long, long time," Kelly said. "I want to work to make sure we're fulfilling all our goals."
He said his priorities include improving FAU's graduation rates, which are about 40 percent, working with state legislators to improve funding and engaging with donors and alumni. He said he wants to mend any relationships that have gone sour in recent years.
He's a big supporter of sports and said he hopes to strengthen FAU's athletic programs to create excitement among students and alumni.
While FAU has struggled to compete with other state universities for funding, Kelly said the university needs to think bigger.
"If we complete globally, we automatically compete locally," he told the trustees. "When you have a national reputation, more financial resources are going to come. Students from other states will all want to come to Boca."
Trustees were initially split between Kelly and LeMieux, but voted unanimously for him as a show of solidarity.
"I was honored to be considered for president of FAU. I wish President Kelly great success," LeMieux posted on Twitter Friday evening.
Earley, a business dean at Purdue University, was the other finalist.