On August 1, Rick Gallot will celebrate his fifth year as Grambling State University (GSU) president. During his tenure, the former Louisiana state senator has presided over enrollment and infrastructure growth, shoring up of university finances, and a reboot of the nursing program.
But, overall, what gives him great joy is the success of GSU students.
“The thing that I’m most proud of is the improvement in our first-to-second year retention rate. When I started in 2016, our first-to-second year retention rate was only 60% and we have improved that to 77%,” Gallot said. “When you think about what our core mission is – to educate our students and have them persist in the pursue of a degree – the greatest of all achievements is that our student success rate and retention have improved so significantly.”
When Gallot came in as the 10th president of GSU, the university was on fiscal watch by the Board of Regents.
“Our finances are in better shape than they’ve ever been,” he said. “We’ve had three consecutive years of no findings in our audits.”
In 2017, the university launched an effort to raise $1 million by homecoming through a partnership between GSU, GSU Foundation, Inc. and the GSU National Alumni Association. The funds raised by alumni, students, faculty and business partners from around the country exceeded the goal – generating $1.2 million. The funds went towards institutional growth and the carrying out of the university’s mission, including student scholarships, university stability, faculty support, balancing the budget, and athletic facility improvements.
Later that year, Gallot was honored with the HBCUGrow LEAD award for ”Best Leadership” for his energetic, student-focused approach to leadership and accomplishments, including the successful fundraising effort and record student enrollment.
Fall 2020 marked the sixth consecutive year that GSU had seen enrollment increases. The university saw a 20.47% increase from fall 2014 to fall 2020.
Gallot’s presence has brought stability to the university because he is the longest serving president in recent history. He recalled that shortly after arriving on campus in 2016, he was walking by the Student Union and a student came up to him.
The young scholar said, “President Gallot, this is my third year here. You’re the third president and the first one I’ve met.”
That statement resonated with him and solidified the need for him to be out and about talking with students, faculty and staff – something that he did a lot of before the pandemic hit.
Martin Lemelle, GSU executive vice-president and chief operating officer, said working with Gallot has been a master class in the art of leadership.
“[President Gallot] displays a powerful mixture of personal humility and indomitable will,” he said. “He is incredibly ambitious, but his ambition is first and foremost for the students, the university and its purpose, not himself.”
Lemelle said Gallot embraces diversity of thought and experience and shares space with his leaders and encourages them to be innovative and bold.
“From his passion to champion “first and only” achievements to his intense focus on ensuring that GSU has a first-row seat at tables of influence, President Gallot’s leadership ensures that GSU remains focused on service, growth, and intelligence,” he said.
Dr. Connie Walton, GSU provost and vice president for academic affairs, also describes Gallot as forward-thinking.
“President Gallot’s leadership style has consistently been that of a visionary leader,” she said. “He actively looks for partners who can enhance the reach of the university. He is student and faculty centered.”
She cited a number of “wins” under his leadership including new construction, implementation of a bachelor’s degree in cloud computing and cybersecurity, and approval to offer the university’s first doctorate program in criminology and justice administration.
GSU also transitioned its registration process to an e- process which “proved to be invaluable during our transition to telework during the pandemic,” Dr. Walton said.
Ironically, six years ago, becoming a college president was nowhere on Gallot’s radar. The Grambling State University alumni and Southern University Law Center graduate decided to leave politics and spend more time with his wife and family, and practice law.
“I have grown to appreciate the scripture, Proverbs 19:21 – “Many are the plans in man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails,” he said.
When the opportunity arose for him to lead Grambling State, he knew it was the right fit because God “provided me with that peace that this was the purpose that He has for me.”
Gallot said his greatest challenge as president is how slowly the wheels of government often move. As an example, when he asked GSU Computer Department head Yenumula Reddy about emerging technology, Reddy cited cybersecurity.
“So, we set about creating the first and only bachelor’s degree program in cybersecurity in Louisiana,” he said, explaining that it took nearly two years to get over bureaucratic hurdles.
“Business needs solutions quickly – not as rapidly as the government infrastructure would allow,” Gallot said. “That’s been one of the challenges – to quickly navigate the approval process.”
He said his goal is to “cast a vision for the institution that will make us relevant.”
The university’s new digital library, now close to completion, will be the first of its kind in the state.
“To know that we are the first and only in the state of Louisiana and the first and only HBCU with a digital library is quite an accomplishment,” he said, adding that the university needed a new library for many years but GSU didn’t want to just build a library of the past, but a library of the future.
“We wanted to be bold and do something that would be the first of its kind but also be forward thinking and elevate our standing as an academic institution,” he said. “Our students will have the very best cutting-edge technology as it relates to the library.”
The Grambling State University School of Nursing also relaunched its undergraduate nursing program with a 12-month curriculum in 2018. It came after the Louisiana State Board of Nursing voted to remove the conditional approval status in 2015.
A $5 million renovation of the dining hall began in 2020 and was completed earlier this year.
“SodexoMAGIC has been an incredible partner to us in enabling us to deliver that,” Gallot said.
It has been his mission to provide students with the best opportunities to be successful.
“When students choose to come to Grambling, they will be surrounded by a community of people who will provide them with the kind of environment where they will feel celebrated and not tolerated,” Gallot said.
That resonates with parents and students because of what’s going in society – police shootings of people of color, challenges to voting rights and other issues..
“We are just as relevant, even more so, as we were in post-reconstruction years,” he said.
Gallot said Grambling’s motto “Where Everybody Is Somebody” is more than just a motto. “It is, at our core, who we are. We value our students and our faculty and staff.”
That was evident when he opted not to have an investiture – a traditional president’s inauguration. Instead, he chose to put money that would have been raised for the event into the university. Fiscal decisions like this are one of many that helped facilitate two raises to faculty and staff over the last five years totaling 5.477 percent.
Moving forward, Gallot said the university must continue to invest in things to meet students’ needs. That includes having degree programs that will provide them with the best opportunity to be successful, including the Call Me Mister program which seeks to train black male teachers, Gallot said.
“Only 2% of classroom teachers are black males and only 5% are black females,” he said, explaining that the teachers in the classroom should reflect the diversity of the students.
“As an HBCU, we have a charge, a duty, a mission to ensure that we are training classroom teachers who will be the molders and mentors of children in their formative years – educators (both male and female) who will help bring the best out of these students,” Gallot said.
The university’s goal is the holistic development of students – not just in the classroom but by providing great facilities, engaging activities, internship opportunities and employment options.
Gallot said he’s looking forward to leading GSU into a bright future
“Our best days are still ahead of us,” he said. “We’re really just getting started. This still doesn’t feel like work to me. For me, I feel like I’m living God’s purpose in my life.”