Rice University breaks barriers, appointing 1st-ever Black, immigrant President

Rice University has tabbed Reginald DesRoches as the school’s next president, effective next summer.

HOUSTON – Rice University has tabbed Reginald DesRoches as the school’s next president, effective next summer.

DesRoches’ appointment is a historic marker at the university. He is both the first Black and first immigrant candidate named president in the university’s 109-year history.

DesRoches is currently serving as the university’s provost. He’ll be taking over from current president David Leebron, who had previously announced his plan to step down after the end of the current academic year.

The official day when DesRoches becomes the eighth president of Rice University is July 1, 2022.

According to a media release, the Rice Board of Trustees selected DesRoches after searching nationwide for their academic leader.

“I am deeply honored to be named the next president of Rice University,” DesRoches said in the school’s media release. “The past 4½ 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 recognized internationally for his background as a structural engineer and for being an earthquake resilience expert, having testified on the subject before committees of the U.S. House and Senate. Born in Haiti before being raised in Queens, DesRoches joined the Rice family in 2017, when he became the Dean of Rice’s George R. Brown School of Engineering. During his time as dean, the engineering school increased in size, visibility, and program ranking, with growth in its research programs, according to the media release.

Leebron then appointed DesRoches as Rice’s provost in 2020, leading up to Thursday’s announcement of DesRoches as the school’s next President.

DesRoches said this is an incredible honor. DesRoches will be the University’s first Black and immigrant president.

“It’s an honor. I know that this is historical and it is going to be memorable on many fronts,” DesRoches said to KPRC. “When you’re a minority, or you’re Black and you’re rising through the ranks, you tend to have to break barriers, so this is not the first for me. I was the first Black dean at Rice; I was the first Black provost and now the first Black president.”

DesRoches said his parents are a big reason for his success. His mother and father left Haiti in the late 1960s and took him and his three siblings with them. His mother passed away ten years ago. His father is now 89-years-old.

“My parents left Haiti in the late 1960s when many people were leaving because of the dictatorship. and they put everything into the family. My mom--both of them worked two jobs that vast majority of their lives just so they could provide the four of us with an education. That’s what they did. It was the most important thing to them. To see me where I am now, I know my mom would be proud and I know my dad is extremely proud,” DesRoches said.

DesRoches, who came to America when he was one year old, said he has built a passion for helping people.

“[My parents] always stressed hard work and being the best at what you do, being resilient and finishing what you started,” DesRoches said. “And helping others. One of the things I remember from my family is that they would always help other families that were transitioning from Haiti.”

DesRoches has also helped many students. During his 4.5 years at Rice so far, DesRoches established the Officer of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion along with several new majors.

“I’ve seen the way an education can change people’s lives. I’ve been in education for over 25 years,” DesRoches said.

Now, DesRoches said he will have some time to think about the future of Rice, never losing sight of what he aims to do.

“I want to continue to raise the visibility and the stature of the University,” DesRoches said.

DesRoches has three children. His daughter is a Rice student and plans to graduate in 2023. DesRoches said his message to children who may see themselves in him is to “Work hard. Study Hard. There’s nothing you can’t do,” DesRoches said.

About the Authors:

Born in Canada but raised in Houston, Howard joined KPRC 2 in 2021 after five years at ESPN. Before that, Howard was a reporter on Houston Rockets and Houston Astros game broadcasts. Among the events that Howard has covered on site: the NBA bubble and the Basketball Hall of Fame inductions for both Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady. He's H-town proud!

Moriah Ballard joined the KPRC 2 digital team in the fall of 2021. Prior to becoming a digital content producer in Southeast Texas and a Houstonian, Moriah was an award-winning radio host in her hometown of Lorain, Ohio and previously worked as a producer/content creator in Cleveland. Her faith, family, and community are her top passions.