University Community: Six things to know about our new provost

Provost Prasant Mohapatra, wearing a dark blue suit with a USF bull horn pin displayed, pictured outdoors in front of live oak trees at the Patel Center on USF’s Tampa campus.

Provost Prasant Mohapatra, USF’s chief academic officer, joined USF in March. [Photo: Sandra C. Roa, USF News]


On March 1, the university welcomed Prasant Mohapatra as provost and executive vice president of academic affairs. The provost is the university’s chief academic officer, providing university-wide leadership for all things academic, and reports directly to the president.

Mohapatra joined USF from the University of California, Davis, where he served in several leadership positions over the last two decades, culminating with vice chancellor for research since 2018.

Here are six facts to help you get to know Provost Mohapatra.

1. He and his siblings are all engineers.

Born and raised in a lower middle-class family in what was then the poorest state of India, Mohapatra seized the opportunity to continue his higher education in the U.S., funded through teaching and research assistantships. He earned a master’s degree in mathematics from the University of Rhode Island and a doctorate in computer engineering from Pennsylvania State University.

“When I was starting my undergraduate education, the area of computers was relatively new,” he says. “It was exciting, and anything technologically that is new and exciting is really attractive to me.”

Mohapatra specializes in computer science and engineering and served as a distinguished professor in the Department of Computer Science at UC Davis.

His wife, son and daughter are also engineers. His wife, Pallavi, serves as a manager of IT systems for the state of California and his son, Rohan, works at Microsoft. His daughter, Nikita, just finished a degree in biomedical engineering from the University of California, Berkeley, and is in medical school at UC Davis.

2. His research is supported by the U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. Army.

Mohapatra’s research interests include the fields of wireless networks, mobile communications, cybersecurity and internet protocols. He has published more than 400 papers in reputed conferences and journals on these topics, and co-holds eight U.S. patents. 

Currently, he and several postdoctoral and graduate students are looking at fairness issues in artificial intelligence as well as how to leverage it to bolster cybersecurity for military national security interests. 

His research has been funded through grants totaling about $15 million from the National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Army Research Labs, Intel Corp., Siemens, Panasonic Technologies, Hewlett Packard, Raytheon, ARM Research and EMC Corp.

3. He has always aspired to be provost at a large public university where he could make a big impact.

Mohapatra was particularly attracted to USF as the university’s meteoric rise in the rankings over the last decades fits his style of moving fast. 

He says he was impressed with how the university is transforming the lives of its students, addressing some of society’s most challenging issues through high-impact faculty research and serving the Tampa Bay region with its commitment to strong community partnerships.

“USF is clearly an institution on the rise, and I look forward to helping us achieve our strategic goals and aspirations,” he says, which include membership in the American Association of Universities and reaching the top 25 in rankings.

He’ll do that by focusing on faculty recruitment and continuing to support current faculty in their research and teaching.

4. He’s not worried about ChatGPT interfering with education.

Mohapatra is passionate about artificial intelligence. Society can benefit from adopting more AI, he says, and academic research should play a role in finding innovative ways to use AI to improve quality of life.

Should educators be worried about the classroom impact of the AI chatbot, ChatGPT, which can be used to write essays and answer complex questions with ease? 

No, he says.

“We had similar concerns when calculators came. People thought, ‘OK, how do we teach math with these devices?’ Then the computer came and same thing with the internet,” he says. “I think this is another inflection point we need to ride through. … We need to figure out a way to … make it beneficial both for the students as well as our instructors.”

5. He once rode an ostrich in Cape Town, South Africa.

Traveling is Mohapatra’s favorite pastime, and he has visited more than 60 countries. On a trip to South Africa, he got an unusual opportunity.

“This guy said, ‘You want to ride an ostrich?’ and I’m like, ‘Why not?’ The funny part is he closed the ostrich’s eyes when I was riding it. I’m like, ‘Why are you doing that?’ He said, ‘If it knew that you were riding on it you would be in big trouble!”

6. He’s a big sports fan, especially American football.

While attending Penn State for his doctoral program, Mohapatra learned the rules of football and became hooked. Now he watches both college and NFL games. College sports serve as a great bonding experience for students and alumni alike, he observes.

“Even now, and it’s been like 30 years, I still never miss a Penn State game. That’s the kind of attachment you can develop through athletics,” he says.

To learn more about Mohapatra listen to Inside USF: The Podcast, Season 2, Episode 7.