Gilbert Rochon, PhD ’99

Tuskegee president shares MIT vision

After Gilbert Rochon’s first day as president of Tuskegee University in November 2010, it was clear he would be there for a while.

“I was shown the tombs and headstones of George Washington Carver and three of Tuskegee’s deceased former presidents,” Rochon says. “It’s the first job I’ve had that comes with a plot.”

Rochon, who is originally from New Orleans, received a doctorate in urban and regional planning from MIT in 1999, although he began his doctoral work long before, in 1976. Fellowships in Sudan, Puerto Rico, and Thailand intervened, followed by a teaching position at Tulane University, a professorship at Dillard University, and adjunct faculty appointments at several universities. He returned to MIT in 1998 to complete his doctorate.

“It was a long, winding road to return to MIT,” he says. “Fortunately, they didn’t have a statute of limitations!”

Rochon arrived at Tuskegee from Purdue University, where he had served in posts including director of the Terrestrial Observatory and associate vice president for collaborative research engagement.

“At MIT, I benefited from having an interdisciplinary dissertation committee,” he says. “That helped me so much at Purdue, where it was my responsibility to pull together multiple disciplines for various projects.”

Rochon, Tuskegee’s sixth president since its founding in 1881, is not the school’s first MIT connection. Tuskegee hired MIT’s first African-American graduate, Robert R. Taylor, Class of 1892, to design its first campus buildings; Rochon oversaw the renaming of Tuskegee’s School of Architecture in Taylor’s honor in 2011. The MIT influence remains strong.

MIT’s commitment to state-of-the-art excellence, plus its relationship with corporations and federal research labs, have inspired developments at Tuskegee, he says. “We’re not content with being a top baccalaureate college; we have our sights on becoming a top doctoral research institution.”

Rochon holds a master of public health in health services administration from Yale University School of Medicine and a bachelor’s degree in English from Xavier University in Louisiana. Beyond his work in academia, he has also held research or management jobs at NASA, the USDA Forest Service, the Naval Oceanographic Office, and the Environmental Protection Agency. He and his wife, Patricia, a former faculty member in digital media at Purdue, have two children: their daughter, Hildred, is a student at the Brown University Alpert School of Medicine, and their son, Emile, attends Australia’s University of Queensland School of Medicine.

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