Thursday, June 20, 2024

LA Tech outgoing president Dr. Guice on leaving a legacy

by BIZ Magazine

Louisiana Tech University President Dr. Les Guice announced in fall his intention to retire at the end of 2023 after serving the institution for 45 years, the last 10 as president.

Groundbreaking faculty and student research, numerous national and global rankings, record-breaking enrollments and graduations, historic philanthropic campaigns, and innovative expansion and enhancement of the campus are some of the many milestones from Dr. Guice’s presidency.

Dr. Guice assumed office on July 1, 2013. His journey to the President’s Office began as a Tech student in 1976. He served as associate professor of civil engineering in 1981 before being named department head of civil engineering in 1989. He was named Tech’s vice president for research and development in 2004 then executive vice president in 2012.

BIZ. Magazine held one last interview with Dr. Guice before he left the president’s office.

Q; Why is now the time to leave LA Tech?

A: Having been at the university for 45 years as a faculty member and administrator, we have achieved many of the goals we had set along the way, and I know that it is time for me to shift my focus back to my family. For our entire Guice family, Louisiana Tech has been a big part of our life. We have enjoyed being part of so many Tech-related events and activities. We will continue to do so, but we can also take more time now to go out and do other traveling and activities that we have put on the back burner.  

The April 2019 tornado, followed by an extended period of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, made it challenging for me to retire earlier. I felt that the continuity of leadership was important in navigating through those events. We also had a few projects we were trying to get across the finish line, most of which are now essentially completed.  

We have just recently completed two facilities we have been planning for some time and are confident that those will significantly impact our campus and community. Tech Pointe II was recently dedicated and is already fully leased out to companies who want to reside on our campus to capitalize on the faculty and student talent we have available just across the road. The new Louisiana Tech Research Institute (LTRI) was also recently opened in Bossier City, and that will be an attractive place for education, government, and corporate partners to come together to tackle some of the nation’s big challenges. We are also well along the path of planning a new Forest Products Innovation Center that will support innovation and product development support for one of the most important industries in our state. The university is in the process of completing the renovation plans for one of our most heavily used academic buildings on campus – George T. Madison. And we have a couple of other buildings that are in the works. There has been a lot of work in enhancing the campus walkways, greens, lighting, and safety.        

Q: You oversaw a lot of growth in Shreveport-Bossier during your time. Why was that important for you?

A: Shreveport-Bossier is the major population center for the I-20 corridor in North Louisiana. It is crucial for the economic prosperity of our region that our North Louisiana national research university play a leadership role in supporting community and regional growth. For many years, we have understood the importance of our academic, research, innovation, and workforce development activities in advancing Shreveport-Bossier’s economic and educational growth opportunities. President Reneau asked me to lead these regional activities when I was a Dean and Vice President. The LTRI facility is just one example of how Tech and our partners work together to develop and attract talent, support existing entities in innovation, and grow companies and other organizations with the potential for major economic impacts in our region. The leadership of the Cyber Innovation Center and the Bossier community in developing and planning these facilities, programs, and partnerships in the National Cyber Research Park has been pivotal in getting us all to the point we are today. To have corporate, government, academic, and other partners working together to advance the region as we are is the formula for long-term economic impacts.

Q:  What is your favorite memory from your time as president?

A: That’s a hard one to answer! My favorite time is always commencement, as we see our graduates realize what they have accomplished through a lot of planning and hard work. My last commencement happened to be just five days after a tragic incident occurred on campus. A student injured in an attack was airlifted to Shreveport in very serious condition. Thanks to her medical care and tremendous dedication, she was able to make it to commencement five days later and walk across the stage to receive her diploma. Really, that defines what it’s all about: that sense of determination, pride, and accomplishment, regardless of the circumstances.  

 Perhaps my favorite memorable event came in the aftermath of another disaster on our campus. On April 25, 2019, in the very early morning hours, an EF3 tornado tore through our campus and caused severe damage to our campus and two deaths in our community. By the time daylight broke the next morning, I had begun walking around the most heavily damaged parts of our campus. I saw countless numbers of students and faculty who were out picking up debris and cutting up fallen trees to get our campus and community back in order. They continued to do that in the coming weeks. That really brought everyone together in meaningful ways, exemplifying the Tenets of Tech that our Tech Family holds so dear. We continued to see similar behavior after the waves of COVID-19 hit our campus and as our students returned to campus with a commitment for service and support for each other that was unlike anything I had seen on our campus before.

Q: What do you think your legacy will be?  

A: That will be for others to judge. I am a big believer in teamwork, and anything that I might have accomplished is because we got the right people working together to achieve the goals. When I was head of civil engineering, we established a university-industry cooperative research center focused on underground utility systems called trenchless technologies. The faculty and students across the college remain actively engaged with various partners across the globe in advancing that industry. When I was dean of engineering and science, I worked with President Reneau and other faculty to advance the impacts of the Institute for Micromanufacturing. We created degree programs from the bachelor’s to doctoral levels that would leverage those facilities, technologies, and talent resources to have economic impacts. Today, we are actively working with a company and others to develop a microchip facility in our community, leveraging our micromanufacturing academic and research resources to have significant economic impacts. It is important to understand that these things take years to develop, which is why we must have sustained support, leadership, and commitment over long periods.

About 20 years ago, as dean of engineering and science, we worked with the College of Business to establish a research center called the Center for Entrepreneurship and Information Technology (CEnIT). The faculty in that center have had major impacts in advancing entrepreneurship and innovation programs across our region. CEnIT has created a culture of innovation and supported the development of many new businesses and partnerships. Some of those partner companies continue to operate on our campus in two multi-tenant buildings, and others are located across the region. CEnIT also fosters innovative product development and entrepreneurship with patents and prototypes developed by faculty and staff involved in our research centers.

 Over the past 15 years, we began to develop cyber-related academic and research programs. In 2012, we established the nation’s first cyber engineering program. That program has resulted in a significant growth of students pursuing cyber activities across multiple programs at Tech. That has encouraged certain companies like GDIT to establish a presence in our region and across our state, bringing hundreds of jobs to Louisiana, and creating opportunities for our graduates to remain in Louisiana after graduation.

We have encouraged and supported faculty from all colleges to develop innovative academic and research programs. For example, the VISTA program was developed by faculty in biology, engineering, and art to encourage scientific visual illustrations of science through art. That work was featured in the Louisiana Art and Science Museum in Baton Rouge for the past year. Our faculty all across the institution are constantly seeking innovative approaches to support education and research, and I am most proud of them for their focus on our students!

Q: How do you feel you left Tech compared to when you assumed the president role?

A: We have been fortunate to have made considerable progress on our physical facilities and grounds. We have built wonderful new facilities for business, engineering and science. Our new building project for Forestry and renovations of two major academic building projects are in the plans for next year through the Capital Outlay program. We have built and enhanced new residential and intramural facilities and rebuilt some athletics facilities damaged by the tornado. Our alumni have been most supportive in contributing to many projects, and their investments in athletics, coupled with tornado restoration funds, have helped us enhance soccer, softball, track, baseball, tennis, and football facilities. A significant number of campus facilities have had improvements for roofing, HVAC, and other deferred maintenance needs. Our alumni have contributed to projects to plant trees and enhance the campus grounds. Through a federal grant in partnership with the City of Ruston, we have had some major improvements in streets, sidewalks, lighting, and utilities, particularly on our Enterprise Campus and along our railroad paths through campus. 

The COVID-19 pandemic and declining high school graduation rates have had some impacts on our enrollments. However, our student body is at an all-time high academically and showing signs of growth, as we had our largest freshman class in history this past Fall. 

As President Jim Henderson sets his priorities for the coming years, I encourage everyone to support him just as they have supported me.

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