Raaj Kurapati, the new executive vice chancellor and chief operating and financial officer at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, traces his career in higher education to a conversation he had with his father, who was in the hospital preparing for heart surgery.
His father, Rajarathnam Kurapati, asked for three things he thought would help his son in the future: Get serious about business if he was continuing in that field; move from Micronesia, where they were living, to the mainland; and there was one more thing.
“He said, ‘both your mother and I have been lifelong educators and I always thought it would be nice if one of my kids did something in education,’” Raaj Kurapati recalled. “That never left me.” His father had served as the president of a college in India before moving to Micronesia, was a director of education, and retired as a professor of social sciences. His mother, Hazel, was a professor of natural sciences.
His father passed away some years later. Shortly after that, Kurapati had the opportunity to join Northern Marianas College as the chief financial officer in 2003. “I got into higher education, and I fell in love with it,” he said.
Coincidentally, September 1, his first day on the job at UTHSC, was the beginning of his 21st year in education.
“For me, it wasn’t simply about checking the box,” he said. “It was about honoring the legacy of my parents, but also following their passion for bettering the lives of others through education and making an impact on society through that.”
Kurapati was born in Hyderabad, India, and grew up on Pohnpei Island in Micronesia.
Prior to moving into public higher education, Kurapati held leadership roles in business and private industry for approximately 12 years, serving as an assurance and consulting senior professional at Deloitte and as a vice president and chief financial and compliance officer for a community bank.
He and his wife, Kyumi, have been married 31 years, have five children, two boys and three girls, ages 30, 26, 24, 20, and 18, and a new grandson.
“We’ve been fortunate that our family is very close, and my siblings and I are very close as well,” Kurapati said. “My parents raised us to be that way, and I’m really proud to see that my kids feel the same way.” His two older sisters and one younger brother are medical professionals.
Ask him about hobbies, and while ocean fishing gets a nod, family time trumps that. “I don’t know if you want to call it a hobby, but it’s definitely my favorite activity, spending time with my kids, my family, and doing things with them,” Kurapati said.
He tries to fit exercise into his busy life. Visitors to his new office in the Hyman Building may find him walking at his treadmill desk in the morning and the late afternoon. “I try to do two to three miles a day, preferably. I usually do email and reading when I’m doing that.”
Kurapati said he enjoys being around people, having conversations, and learning from different cultures. “We’re in the people business,” he said. “I come from humble beginnings, and what never left me is the fact that I am where I am today because of, first and foremost God’s blessings, and because of really hard work. And I don’t think of myself as better than anybody else just because I have a title. We all have critical roles to play in this organization, regardless of where we sit in the organizational structure. It’s about us bringing our best every day to the table, as collectively we are delivering on the mission that is to build healthy Tennesseans.”
Before joining UTHSC, Kurapati served since 2018 as the executive vice president and chief operating and financial officer for the University of Memphis. “What drew me to UTHSC was the opportunity to continue to be part of this community, which my family has come to love and embrace, and continuing to make an impact,” he said. “The reason I came to Memphis was because the president of the University of Memphis convinced me that if I really wanted to make an impact in higher education and make an impact in my community, Memphis was the place to do it.”
“When the opportunity here came up, it seemed like an extension of what I was already doing in the community,” he continued. “And I’ve always been intrigued by the health sciences side of the house and that it was a tremendous opportunity for me to continue to grow personally and professionally.”
He said he is excited to be part of the new leadership team Chancellor Peter Buckley, MD, is building. “I think Chancellor Buckley is building a team that is going to be not just doing the good work that was always done, but really taking that good work and celebrating it in our community, celebrating it across the state. And that, to me, was very attractive.”
Kurapati believes there is great opportunity to continue to raise the profile of UTHSC across Tennessee. “I hope to play a role and really help our community recognize the tremendous impact we make in this community broadly, but specifically in helping support healthier Tennesseans,” he said. “The other thing I’d like to do is really position ourselves to continue to grow in a solid financial position to allow us to continue to deliver high-quality education, research, and service to our community.”