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He was the first in his family to go to college. Now he's president of FIU

Kenneth A. Jessel is the sixth president of Florida International University.
Pedro Portal
Miami Herald
Kenneth A. Jessell is the sixth president of Florida International University.

When the president at Florida International University looks around campus, he sees a lot of himself the students.

Not just because he’s a Fort Lauderdale kid.

Kenneth Jessell was the first person in his family to go to college, just like 20% of undergrads at FIU. Now, he’s the one in charge of making sure the university supports them.

Kenneth took a different path to the top job, citing a background in finance and real estate.

He spent 26 years at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, where he handled the financial affairs for the university as a senior vice president. He spent most of his time behind the scenes.

That changed last year at FIU. The school’s longtime president resigned after allegations of misconduct. Kenneth was asked to serve as interim president and later became president.

Now, less than a year later, FIU is making news again, but for very different reasons. The university moved up by eight spots in the annual U.S. News college rankings.

Clearly, Jessell and FIU are doing something right.

On the Sept. 19 episode of Sundial, we talk to him about his vision for the university.

On Sundial's previous episode, we talked about how a search for his mom's grave led Jessie Wooden to purchase the historic Lincoln Memorial Park Cemetery in Brownsville. He's restoring it with Junie Ati to make it a center for the community.

Listen to Sundial Monday through Thursday on WLRN, 91.3 FM, live at 1 p.m., rebroadcast at 8 p.m. Missed a show? Find every episode of Sundial on your favorite podcast app, such as Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, and Spotify.

Carlos Frías is a bilingual writer, a journalist of more than 25 years and the author of an award-winning memoir published by Simon & Schuster.
Leslie Ovalle Atkinson is the former lead producer behind Sundial. As a multimedia producer, she also worked on visual and digital storytelling.
Elisa Baena is a former associate producer for Sundial.