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Profile: Veteran of State Government Steers Joint Rowan-Rutgers Board

Kris Kolluri wants to improve conditions and offer more opportunities for students, faculty -- and Camden community

Kris Kolluri
Kris Kolluri

Name: Kris Kolluri

What he does: Kolluri was hired last summer as the first CEO to head operations for the Rowan University-Rutgers-Camden Board of Governors, a group formed by the New Jersey Medical and Health Sciences Education Restructuring Act as a compromise between state lawmakers who wanted to merge the two universities and Rutgers stakeholders who resisted.

What the group does: Funded by $5 million contributed annually by each school, the board is charged with creating academic and research programs in the biomedical sciences for students and faculty at Rutgers-Camden and at Cooper Medical School of Rowan University, as well as for members of the Camden community.

Less than one year after its first meeting, the joint board has started a program to offer Camden high-school seniors paid apprenticeships as medical assistants , followed by free tuition to attend Camden County College.

The board’s seven members, appointed by the governor and the boards of both universities, are considering real-estate options for a facility in downtown Camden to house the board’s programs.

How Kolluri got the job: Known as the man who served as New Jersey governor for one day in 2006 when he was state transportation secretary, and then-Gov. Jon Corzine and three top-ranking elected officials were traveling outside the state, Kolluri comes to the CEO position from the private sector.

Before spending the last four years at two different law firms, the Rutgers-Camden-educated attorney headed the New Jersey Department of Transportation and the New Jersey Schools Development Authority.

What he hopes to accomplish: The first-generation, 46-year-old Indian-American grew up poor in Camden County. He says this informs his desire to provide education and job opportunities to Camden City residents.

“You have to provide a platform for people to succeed. Everyone has the potential to succeed. The question is do you have the opportunity to succeed?” he said.

With this guiding principle in mind, he plans to execute the three main goals of the board: To create collaborative educational initiatives; to foster economic development in the city for current and future residents; and to develop sustainable community support systems.

As an example of number three, he and board members have worked with MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” recipient Dr. Jeffrey Brenner to set up integrated clinics to offer Camden patients one-stop access to both medical and legal services.

What Camden still needs to fix: The school system.

“That is the last remaining piece that needs to get fixed,” he said. “It’s an absolute net plus to eventually attract people to live and work here. But we always need to keep our eye on to make sure current residents’ needs are met as well.”

His lofty personal goal: Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa. He once reached 17,000 feet before altitude sickness forced him to stop. But as he notes, no one earns the right to call the mountain “Killie” until they’ve scaled the peak. “I want to have the privilege of calling her Killie one day.”

Other interests: Kolluri and his wife like exposing their two adolescent and teen daughters to diverse cuisines by taking them to ethnic restaurants in Philadelphia. He admits to being less than a success in the kitchen, and confesses he could also brush up on his golf game, though he loves playing. He’s also taking up oil painting. He’s in the process of moving his family from Philly to Cherry Hill because he said he believes in living among the constituency he serves.

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