The Smithsonian Regents, the governing board of the Smithsonian Institution, Monday elected France A. Cordova, the president of Purdue University, as its chairman.

The Smithsonian has almost everything, including T Freeze-dried ice cream enjoyed by astronauts and tourists. (Courtesy Smithsonian Institution)

France A. Cordova, the chairman-elect of the Smithsonian Regents (Courtesy of Smithsonian Institution)

That appropriation, as well as the private fund-raising, Cordova said, is one of the looming challenges for the Smithsonian. “Obviously the federal budget is a big question mark. Federal support is incredibly important to aspects of the Smithsonian,” said Cordova after the regents public meeting Monday.

Wayne Clough, the Smithsonian Secretary, announced Monday the institution had raised $162 million in private funds in fiscal 2011, an increase over fiscal 2010.

Cordova is chair of the Regents Strategic Planning and Programs Committee and a member of the group’s Governance and Nominating Committee. With her election as chair, she will head the 3-person executive committee, which includes Stonesifer and Shirley Ann Jackson, the president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

She will take over in January.

Cordova earned her bachelor’s degree in English from Stanford University and her doctorate in physics from the California Institute of Technology. Her academic career includes five years as chancellor at the University of California, Riverside, where she also taught physics and astronomy. She has also taught and held administrative posts at the University of California, Santa Barbara and Pennsylvania State University. In addition, she was chief scientist at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration from 1993 to 1996. She was named president of Purdue in 2007.

In a statement, Cordova said “The Smithsonian Institution is known worldwide for its contributions to scientific research and for promoting arts, history and culture. It makes the American experience, the natural wonders of the planet and the universe, and the beauty and variety of human creativity accessible to everyone.”

And as a scientist, she added Monday, the undertold stories of science and artistic discovery and work at the Smithsonian will move to the forefront. “I look at the whole Smithsonian through a research lens and we can tell the story through the research lens.”