dr. desroches rises

Rice University makes historic selection for its eighth president

Rice University makes historic selection for its eighth president

Reginald DesRoches Rice University
DesRoches is the first person of color, the first immigrant (he was born in Haiti), and first engineer to lead the school. Photo courtesy of Rice University

An internationally renowned structural engineer and earthquake resilience expert is now leading the Ivy League of the South.

Reginald DesRoches, who currently serves as the university’s provost, has been named as the next (and only eighth in history) president of Rice University, the school announced on November 11. DesRoches (pronounced “day-ROH-sh”) will become the eighth president of Rice when he assumes his new position on July 1, 2022, per the university. This news comes after a nationwide search by Rice’s board of trustees.

His appointment comes as a series of firsts for Rice: DesRoches is the first person of color, the first immigrant (he was born in Haiti), and first engineer to lead the school.

The new president will succeed the outgoing David Leebron, who announced his retirement from the school next summer, as CultureMap previously reported.
DesRoches has been provost since Leebron appointed him as the university’s chief academic officer in 2020, per Rice. He is credited by Rice for leading the university’s academic, research, scholarly and creative activities through the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In less than two years, DesRoches increased the university’s research awards, launched several new centers and institutes, and cemented new partnerships and programs with institutions and organizations throughout the Houston area, including the Texas Medical Center.

Additionally, DesRoches established the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, which Rice notes has been instrumental in “dramatically increasing the diversity of Rice’s faculty and graduate student population.” He also is leading the first major expansion of the undergraduate student body in more than 10 years.

He joined the university in 2017, in the role of William and Stephanie Sick Dean of Engineering at the George R. Brown School of Engineering. Under his leadership, the student body grew and partnerships with local and international universities grew (including work with a research center in India).

Born in Born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, DesRoches was raised in Queens in New York City. While studying at the University of California, Berkeley, DesRoches witnessed the damage wrought by the historic 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. That inspired him to focus on earthquake resiliency as he pursued his master’s and Ph.D. degrees in structural engineering at Berkeley, per his bio.

He has authored myriad papers and is a member of the National Academy of Engineering. DesRoches has received the Distinguished Arnold Kerr Lecturer Award in 2019, the John A. Blume Distinguished Lecturer Award in 2018 and the 2018 Earthquake Engineering Research Institute Distinguished Lecturer Award, one of the highest honors in the field of earthquake engineering.

“I am deeply honored to be named the next president of Rice University,” DesRoches said in a statement. “The past four-and-a-half 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.”