Education

Chapman chancellor (and soon-to-be president) shares his leadership secrets

June 30, 2016 by Cindy O'Dell
Daniele Struppa, Christine Zeppos

Chapman University Chancellor Daniele Struppa, center, shares a laugh with his daughter and Brandman University School of Education Dean Christine Zeppos at the Ed.D. immersion.

Chapman University’s incoming president, Chancellor Daniele C. Struppa, had only good things to say about Brandman University when he gave the keynote address to students in the Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) in Organizational Leadership program Sunday afternoon.

Struppa is already a member of Brandman’s Board of Regents and was part of the earliest discussions to create Brandman as a separate university. But even if that wasn’t the case, his own interests and explorations of leadership and institutional change align him with many of the goals of Brandman’s Ed.D. program.

“Leadership is really about the example you give and the values of dedication to students, community and a passion for knowledge. It will still be difficult because that’s the nature of the beast, that’s where I think Brandman has done so well. They never forget about their students,” said Struppa, who successfully encouraged one of his staff members, Christina Marshall, to enroll in the Ed.D. program.

The keys to his own success will surprise only those who think the road to achievement is a straightforward path planned out from an early age.

“Planning is overemphasized,” he said. Struppa developed a love of mathematics early in life and that led him to a Ph.D. and a professorship. At first, he admitted, he really only cared about his research. “I wasn’t that interested in the teaching aspect.”

His views began to change when asked to run for chair of the math department at a university in Italy. At first, he thought it would be a waste of time, but talking with his father convinced Struppa that his leadership could benefit the entire department and raise its reputation within the university.

Daniele Struppa

Chapman Chancellor Daniele Struppa, who becomes president of the university on Sept. 1, talks to Brandman University doctoral students about leadership. Some of his academic work on mathematics can be found here.

“That was my first lesson. You can use your skills to help others,” said Struppa. He continued on a dual path of being a math professor and administrator, eventually returning to the United States (he earned his Ph.D. from the University of Maryland) to work at George Mason University.

There he learned other important lessons, including when to take a long break from it all. A two-year leave to climb mountains both cured his “burnout” and introduced him to his wife, changing his financial priorities, he said. He returned to George Mason, to serve as dean of the School of Arts and Sciences.

By the time he came to Chapman University in 2006 as provost he said, “I had learned enough lessons that the experience at Chapman has been nothing but wonderful. I have never struggled to go to work, although I would still rather be in the mountains. It has everything to do with the culture Jim Doti created, but also I have matured.”

While urging the Ed.D. students to be the kind of “bureaucrats” who hold doors open for people rather than trying to shut them out, he also urged them not to lose sight of their original reasons for wanting an education.

In his case, that’s mathematics. “It’s the most beautiful form of the human spirit. That’s my motivation, but also something that gives me blood and support when I’m tired or worried. That’s why I still do research. This is the reminder every day of why I need to help other faculty members,” he said.


During the question and answer period, Struppa touched on a wide range of subjects:

  • His views on education in the U.S. (He’s unimpressed with the primary and secondary education)
  • The challenges he faced in immigrating
  • His favorite book, which brought his most enthusiastic response: “The Divine Comedies by Dante, that’s true for all Italians.”

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