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Rice University introduces Reginald DesRoches as 8th president

DesRoches has served as the university's provost since 2020. Next summer, he'll take over for President David Leebron.

HOUSTON — Rice University has introduced its next president.

Earlier this month, the university named Reginald DesRoches as its next president. He will become the eighth president in the university's history when he takes the post next summer.

RELATED: Rice University names Reginald DesRoches as next president

DesRoches is currently serving as the university's provost.

DesRoches will succeed President David Leebron, who announced his plan to step down next summer after the end of the current academic year.

“I am deeply honored to be named the next president of Rice University,” DesRoches said. “The past 4 1/2 years at Rice have been among the most rewarding in my professional career and I look forward to building on the tradition of excellence established by President Leebron and those who served before him.”

DesRoches is described by the university as being an internationally recognized structural engineer and earthquake resilience expert.

“I am excited to continue working with the university’s outstanding faculty, students, staff, alumni and community partners to grow the visibility and impact of our research and dedication to the greater good,” DesRoches said. “I look forward to maintaining our commitment to excellence in undergraduate and graduate education as well as our core values of diversity, equity and inclusion. I firmly believe Rice is poised and well-positioned to reach even greater heights of impact and excellence.”

DesRoches has been at Rice since 2017 when he accepted the post as the William and Stephanie Sick Dean of Engineering at the George R. Brown School of Engineering. As the leader of Rice’s engineering school, he oversaw nine departments, 137 faculty and 2,500 students. During his time as dean, the school increased in size, visibility and program rankings, according to the university.

According to a release sent by Rice, DesRoches has been provost since Leebron appointed him as the university’s chief academic officer in 2020. As provost, he has led the university’s academic, research, scholarly and creative activities through the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, including the sudden suspension of classroom instruction and Rice’s successful conversion to remote learning. In less than two years, he has not only dramatically increased the university’s research awards and launched several new centers and institutes but also forged new partnerships and programs with institutions and organizations throughout the Houston area, including the Texas Medical Center.

“Reggie DesRoches is an outstanding choice as Rice’s next president,” Leebron said. “I have had the privilege of working closely with Reggie over the last 4 1/2 years, first in his capacity as dean of engineering and then as provost, and observed firsthand his extraordinary leadership, values, thoughtfulness and ambition for Rice. I am confident he will fully achieve the aspirations of our ‘Be Bold’ campaign, and take Rice to new heights of achievement and impact.”

He said he has received about 1,500 congratulatory emails, including from older people who told him they recall when Rice first admitted black students in 1964.

“When they were of age, they couldn’t come to Rice. And to see somebody that looks like them, that’s gonna be president, was emotional to them,” he said.

DesRoches teared up at the official announcement. He said he was thinking about his parents.

“You think about all the sacrifices they’ve made and how hard I’ve worked trying to honor all they’ve done for us and to hear that announcement officially was emotional," he said.

Among his goals, he said, is to focus on growing research enterprises, expanding graduate programs, and diversifying the faculty.

History before Rice

Born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, DesRoches was raised in the New York City borough of Queens. He's the youngest of four children to Haitian immigrants.

A boyhood love of science and math encouraged him to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering.

While studying at the University of California, Berkeley, DesRoches witnessed the damage wrought by the historic 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. That experience led him to focus on earthquake resiliency as he pursued his master’s and Ph.D. degrees in structural engineering at Berkeley.

Before his appointment at Rice, DesRoches served as chair of the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Georgia Tech in Atlanta. As chair, he led a major renovation of the school’s main research and teaching home, and he spearheaded a major fundraising effort for the school that doubled the number of endowed chairs and professors. During his tenure, the engineering school’s U.S News & World Report graduate rankings rose dramatically, reaching No. 2 in the nation — the highest in the school’s history.

DesRoches’ wife, Paula, is the director of employee health and occupational medicine at Houston Methodist. They have three children: Andrew, Jacob and Shelby. Their daughter, Shelby, is a Rice student in the Class of ’23.

Now 54, DesRoches and his wife have three college-age children, including a bioengineering major at Rice.