Santa Jeremy Ono, who last month was named president of the University of Cincinnati, brings an infectious enthusiasm to the job.

"I really believe in the power of positive thinking," he says. That approach, which has been used by large multinational companies, can also work for a university community, he says.

"Santa's optimism is certainly contagious," says Richard A. Miller, chair of the Faculty Senate. "The general sense I get from the faculty is that people are quite happy to have him as president."

Mr. Ono arrived at Cincinnati in 2010 as senior vice president for academic affairs and provost. He had been senior vice provost for undergraduate academic affairs at Emory University and a professor of ophthalmology in the medical school there.

At Cincinnati he led the development of an academic master plan aligned to the 42,000-student institution's seven-year strategic plan. This past August he agreed to become interim president following the sudden resignation of Gregory H. Williams. "I'm not a new person here at all," says Mr. Ono. "Everybody knows who I am. I'm quite an extroverted, gregarious guy."

The trustees chose Mr. Ono unanimously, citing his accessibility to all university constituencies. "My job is to make sure that everyone is on the same wavelength," Mr. Ono says.

The Cincinnati professoriate gives him high marks for affirming shared governance. "Under President Williams, we developed an integrated decision-making process, and Santa has indicated he'll keep it," says Mr. Miller, a professor of civil engineering.

Mr. Ono says his empathy stems from his own role as a researcher. An award-winning specialist in eye inflammations and macular degeneration, he continued to publish papers, apply for grants, and give lectures during his recent two years as provost. "I believe in shared governance," he says. "It helps things to move forward almost effortlessly."

Some faculty members have worried that the presidential search, done internally, was a rubber-stamping of Mr. Ono, who appeared headed for the position even when he first arrived on campus. But Richard J. Harknett, an associate professor of international relations who was chair of the Faculty Senate last year, says via e-mail that a solicitation of campus opinions had revealed "widespread acceptance" of the expedited search.

Mr. Ono, who turns 50 this week, retains appointments in biology and pediatrics, the latter at the university's College of Medicine. His research has taken him to positions at Harvard Medical School, the Johns Hopkins University, and University College London.

He is not known for blowing his horn about such accomplishments but is adept at trumpeting the strengths of the university to rally its constituents. His favorite medium is Twitter. Two days before Election Day, he tweeted, "Honored to meet the President of the United States today. Told him we are the #hottestcollegeinamerica [the university's hashtag]."

"Twitter is very, very powerful," Mr. Ono says. "With many presidents and sports coaches, someone does it for them, but I write my own tweets. I'm not shy about being honest about how I'm feeling, what I'm thinking."

Mr. Ono has cause for confidence. The University of Cincinnati has a strong endowment for a state institution—more than $1-billion—and fares well in attracting research grants and state support.

He is at ease with being one of five Asian-American presidents of major universities, by his count. He was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, the son of Japanese immigrants. His father is a recently retired mathematician who taught at Princeton University and Johns Hopkins.

Mr. Ono says of his distinct minority status among university presidents (as well as his youth, in comparison with most): "I'm not anxious at all about that."

But the reality of a "bamboo ceiling" remains, he says. "It isn't because there hasn't been a pipeline of qualified people. Many Ivy League and Ivy-type institutions, especially in California, are 20, 30, 40, or even 50 percent Asian-American, and have been that way for decades."