Delaware Valley University, founded 120 years ago as a farm school that catered to Jewish men, took another leap from its past Thursday with the hiring of its first female president, an agronomist currently working as a dean at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Maria Gallo, 53, a Cornell University graduate who grew up in Port Chester, N.Y., will take the helm July 1. She replaces Joseph S. Brosnan, who announced last year that he planned to retire at the end of this school year.

Gallo, dean of the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, said she was attracted by the university's mission, history, and core values, as well as its proximity to family in New York and New Jersey. Delaware Valley still is rich in agricultural and animal-life programs, but long ago went coed and last year converted from a college to a university.

"DelVal is on an upward trajectory," Gallo said this week. "I felt my service and leadership could greatly enhance that."

Gallo earned graduate degrees from North Carolina State University and conducted postdoctoral research at Texas A&M, studying the genetics of sugarcane. She landed her first faculty position at the University of Minnesota, then moved to the University of Florida, where she spent 16 years and chaired the agronomy department. She has been at Hawaii since 2012.

"She is a skilled and thoughtful listener, an inspiring communicator, and she is passionate about DelVal's mission," said Susan B. Ward, chair of the school's board of trustees.

Gallo said she planned to spend the first three to six months listening, then will look to position the university to remain competitive in a tough higher-education market. She underscored the importance of philanthropy, noting that she raised a record-breaking $4 million-plus for her college in 2014.

There, she also led the development and implementation of the college's strategic plan, which helped bring in more students - 50 percent more over 2009.

Gallo, who said she loves to cook and hike, will live in the president's house with her spouse, Elizabeth A. Creary, a retired science technician, and their beagle, Remy.

Gallo says she lives by the wisdom gleaned from two books: Start With Why by Simon Sinek, and The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki.

Speaking of the first book, she said: "You have to understand your mission and you have to engage people. The how and the what come later."

Regarding the second, she said: "A group and their ideas work far better than a single person, even a single expert." 215-854-4693 @ssnyderinq