Press Release

May 18, 2020

Dr. Michael Rao, President of Virginia Commonwealth University, Receives CUPA-HR’s Chief Executive HR Champion Award

Dr. Michael Rao, president of Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) and the VCU Health System, has received the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources (CUPA-HR) 2020 Chief Executive HR Champion Award.

Recognizing that what makes an institution great are its people, this award honors a president or chancellor of a higher education institution or system who has demonstrated significant support for the institution’s human resources function. Thanks to the generous support of Segal, CUPA-HR is pleased to offer an $8,000 contribution to VCU’s endowment or a scholarship fund of Dr. Rao’s choice.

On January 1, 2018, under the direction and leadership of Rao, VCU launched a revitalized HR plan titled Great Place: HR Redesign. The initiative was designed to support the success and careers of employees, helping VCU hire and retain talented individuals who provide the highest quality services to students, patients and the community.

Rao challenged the HR department to create a best-in-class HR plan with a focus on areas such as career development and advancement, market- and merit-based pay, and work/life enrichment through employee wellness programs and enhanced benefit and leave packages. Not only did Rao launch this initiative, but he ensured the project had the staffing and resources needed to be successful.

At the end of 2019, 78 percent of VCU’s staff were enrolled in the new university HR plan created as a result of the Great Place: HR Redesign, demonstrating the trust employees have in the new initiative.

“The Great Place: HR Redesign is a shining example of Dr. Rao’s support of human resources and, ultimately, his commitment to innovation at the university,” said VCU Assistant Vice President for HR Cathleen Corcoran Burke. “Dr. Rao’s visionary leadership propelled HR from a transactional department to a strategic business partner. This change led to VCU’s unique ability to recruit and retain top talent by supporting the institution while placing the focus on the employee.”


CUPA-HR is higher ed HR. We serve higher education by providing the knowledge, resources, advocacy and connections to achieve organizational and workforce excellence. Headquartered in Knoxville, Tennessee, and serving over 30,000 HR professionals and other campus leaders at more than 2,000 member institutions and organizations around the country and abroad, the association offers learning and professional development programs, higher education salary and benefits data, extensive online resources and just-in-time regulatory and legislative information.

Contact Information
Erin Rosolina
Marketing Manager – Communications and Marketing


The CUPA-HR office will be closed Fridays through August 19.