New McNeese State University president Wade Rousse ready for a ‘Brand New Day’

Published 8:31 am Sunday, July 7, 2024

There are three words to describe McNeese State University’s “Brand New Day:” Measured, Passionate, Win.

This is what the Eighth President of McNeese Wade Rousse told the American Press during an interview on his first day, Monday, July 1.

It is paramount to act with intention and to maintain a balance of pragmatism and fervor, he said. The two work hand in hand. While data and metrics outline Rousse’s actions, excitement and zeal fill his sails.

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“You need passion to accomplish anything that is difficult,” he said. “I understand vision, but I also understand that too much vision without execution leads to a loss of integrity.

“I think if you’re wired that way, you have to have passion. A lot of the challenges you look at make you say, ‘Woof, that’s going to take a lot of work. That’s going to take a lot of sweat.’ It’s the passion that motivates you to be able to accomplish those goals.”

A 1989 graduate of South Lafourche High School, Rousse was motivated by his mother to pursue a college degree from McNeese. He fondly remembers the day his mom dropped him off at campus, on the corner by the dorms, because his life changed that day.

He “lived and learned” at McNeese for three years.

However, when his head football coach, Sonny Jackson, stepped down, Rousse intended to leave college and accept a position off-shore. Jackson did not let this happen.

“He was very clear that I could quit football — I wasn’t very good at it — but I was a good student,” Rousse recalled. “He basically said ‘If I ever hear you’re going to quit school again, I’m going to whoop your tail.’ ”

He was enrolled at McNeese until he had the opportunity to join a marine transportation company — one that promoted him to vice president.

He finished his undergraduate degree at Nicholls State University while working full-time. While his Bachelor of Science in Business is technically from Nicholls, a majority of his college experience was experienced on McNeese’s grounds, he assured.

“When I think back on my college experience, it’s McNeese.”

He also holds a Master of Business Administration from the University of New Orleans and a Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

He considers teaching his passion, albeit an unexpected one.

During the decade that he and his wife, Angela, spent in Chicago, he “absolutely fell in love with the classroom.” This was not part of his plan. He expected to earn his doctorate, then come back home and run a hedge fund.

He said it was Angela who opened his eyes to his purpose. Her recognition and motivation of Rousse transitioned them from the private sector to higher education full-time.

“I would come home from class and I tell her what they learned and how excited they are — I was so pumped about it — She looked at me one day and said, ‘Why are we fighting the urge? You’re always so happy. You’re always so excited when you come out of class. Why are we delaying this?”

He hopes to “get back in there” as soon as he is able.

Before returning to Southwest Louisiana, they lived in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Rousse was conducting significant research for some of the only closed economies in the west, which involved conducting economic impact studies, estimating demand curves and finding replacement strategies for coal mines that would no longer be operational for indigenous communities.

“Very meaningful work for an economist,” he explained. “We were trying to figure out how we could keep their economy vibrant moving forward with such a major industry leaving.”

They were content in Flagstaff, but family called them back home.

“I was in a part of my life where we were living in a very beautiful part of the world doing research that I thought was meaningful. Everything was kind of perfect, and then my mom and my mother-in-law both got sick.”

He and Angela moved back when their mothers needed them most. With Angela’s nursing experience, Rousse said they were blessed to have the opportunity to effectively, and lovingly, care for them for three years.

On the first day as president, Rousse announced a slate of changes to the university’s leadership structure. Alongside this announcement, he explained that every faculty member will have a clear goal that is backed and tracked by metrics. Each of the approximate 1,000 employees will have a direct path, and ultimately shared goals. Though it isn’t always easy, achieving those milestones is only possible through complete honesty.

“Sometimes you’ve got to say things that people don’t want to hear,” he said. “Just celebrating is easy, but it’s not valid if it’s only just celebrating. The part of transparency that’s challenging is telling the facts, and that’s not always popular.”

Transparency is a necessary trait of a good leader, and Rousse said that it is a common practice at McNeese.

“You cannot gain the respect of an organization, especially an organization of this size, if you are not brutally transparent,” he said. “If you don’t tell the story, the true story, the world will tell the story for you. Often when that happens, its not the true story.”

He and “his bride” Angela will be living in Burton Hall until the renovations on the President’s House are completed to connect with students and maintain a presence on campus. He hopes to build strong relationships with McNeese’s faculty and staff in the same way.

“The proudest title I have on this campus is professor of economy in the College of Business.”

He considers himself “a little bit of a hybrid” when it comes to experience and perspective.

“I came from the private sector, but I also worked my way up all of the faculty ranks. … Going through all of those tasks in the academy makes me have a real appreciation for our faculty on this campus, and what they do and how they positively influence lives.”

Before being appointed president, he served as executive vice president, vice president of university advancement, and as dean and professor at the College of Business at McNeese.

Rousse and his leadership team plan to have  a “big presence” in the faculty senate, with the mission to “listen and learn.” While he understands that he will not always be able to keep every faculty member happy, he aims to consider every voice on campus.

“Leadership sometimes has to make decisions that are not popular for everybody, and we’re not going to be afraid to make those decisions, but we’ll certainly have faculty involved in the process.”

“I am confident — maybe a little over confident — that we will be successful, and I just can’t wait to get started,” Rousse said.