President DesRoches delivers State of the University address

Lovett Hall drone aerial
President Reginald DesRoches
(Photo by Jeff Fitlow)

Rice University President Reginald DesRoches delivered a State of the University address Nov. 29 which highlighted points of pride from the past year and provided a look toward the future. The overall address spoke to the university’s successes and its expanding impact.

Student success remains paramount for the university, and DesRoches gave a breakdown of recent student trends. The current class is one of the most selective as well as most diverse groups, with nearly one-third being classified as underrepresented minorities. This trend is coupled with Rice’s overall low acceptance rate of only 8% this year.

“[Our students’ high] SAT scores summarize the strength that we attract in terms of our student body,” DesRoches said.

DesRoches credits part of the matriculation trend to programs like the Rice Emerging Scholars Program; the Responsibility, Inclusion and Student Empowerment program; Owl Access and the Take Flight STEM Pathway initiative.

The success of Rice students is seen not just in the classroom but also in the athletic programs.

“A lot of Rice’s rich student experiences are from our athletics program,” DesRoches said. “We have incredible student athletes. We started the season by beating UH for the first time in over 10 years in the Bayou Bucket, and this is the second year in a row that we are going to a bowl game.”

Rice’s 393 student athletes have a cumulative 3.42 grade-point average with 32 students boasting a 4.0 GPA. Additionally, 321 student athletes made the Conference USA Commissioner’s honor roll before Rice moved to the American Athletic Conference this fall.

“If you look at the distribution of majors, we’re one of the few Division I schools that have this kind of distribution where a third of student athletes are STEM, roughly a third are in the humanities or social sciences and the remaining third are in business or other majors,” DesRoches said.

That performance and the numbers emphasize the overall value of a Rice education, which is reflected in industry rankings. U.S. News and World Report ranks Rice as No. 17 among national universities, No. 6 for best undergraduate teaching and No. 5 for best value. Niche ranks Rice at No. 12 for best value, No. 11 for best campus and No. 9 for both best professors and best colleges in America.

DesRoches also noted the graduate programs have 16 mentions in the top 25 U.S. News & World Report rankings, followed by 29 programs in the top 50.

DesRoches provided a few examples of how the student-centric methods at Rice are paying off: Aindrila Pal and Gregory Szypko, both Ph.D. students, won a NASA Future Investigators Award, while across campus, Jonathan Mak, Jeongwon Claire An and David Dietz received the grand prize at the 2023 Plowman Chamber Music Competition.

“Like our undergraduates, our graduate students are exceptionally strong, talented students, and many of them have earned a number of awards,” he said.

To create such strong results with student success, DesRoches made particular mention of the faculty’s caliber as well as the resulting research emanating from the university. He also noted the increasing spread of diversity among the faculty, with underrepresented minorities accounting for 13% in the fall of 2023 versus 8% in the fall of 2013.

Research, faculty excellence pays dividends

The strong emphasis on research has paid dividends to the university. Among the many achievements, DesRoches made special mention of the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health’s award of $45 million to a Rice-led team of researchers developing sense-and-respond implant technology that could slash U.S. cancer-related deaths by more than 50%. It is the largest federal grant given to the university in its history.

DesRoches also accentuated the many grants, awards, fellowships and National Science Foundation CAREER awards earned across the university.

“I hope you can see that we’re not just strong in one area, but we have strength across the humanities and social sciences and in music and in architecture, as well as the STEM fields and in the business school,” he said. “It is great to have such strong faculty across the breadth of ranks as well as across the breadth of disciplines at the university.”

He mentioned the expansion of Rice’s footprint, both in Houston as well as globally with the launch of several new institutes, partnerships in the Texas Medical Center and the Rice Paris Center.

After recognizing the university’s growth and success, DesRoches said Rice remains on solid financial footing with an endowment of $7.8 billion as of July 2022 that provides nearly 40% of the university’s yearly budget.

The president ran down the list of capital projects recently completed, underway or in the planning stages as part of an updated campus master plan, including the Ralph S. O’Connor Building for Engineering and Science, William T. Canady Hall and Susan and Fayez Sarofim Hall.

Looking to the future, the president provided updates to the strategic plan, which will be presented to the Board of Trustees by February and rolled out in late summer.

“This is important for us moving forward as we think about where we want to take the university in the next five and 10 years,” he said.

He concluded the address by expressing his enthusiasm for one of Rice’s newest traditions: Rice Blue Friday.

“It’s starting to pick up steam; I’m noticing on Fridays, we’re seeing more blue,” he said. “We’re hoping that all of you will join us in this effort to show our pride in the university.”