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New Face on Campus

Get to Know LSU’s New Executive Vice Chancellor & Provost Stuart Bell

In April, Stuart R. Bell, dean of the School of Engineering at the University of Kansas, was selected as LSU’s new executive vice chancellor and provost following a nationwide search. Bell, originally from Abilene, Texas, received his bachelor’s degree in nuclear engineering as well as master’s and doctoral degrees in mechanical engineering from Texas A&M University. He has more than 25 years of experience in higher education, having held positions at the University of Alabama and the University of Kansas.

Bell, who will officially begin at LSU on Aug. 2, was on campus after the spring semester to start preparing for the fall, and LSU Media Relations visited with him so the LSU community could get to know him a little better before welcoming him in August.

What attracted you to LSU?
LSU certainly has a great history, and today it is a great university. When I was contacted about this opportunity, I thought, ‘This is an opportunity I should look into.’ If you look at the alumni base, the strength of the faculty, the many outstanding programs, LSU offers so much to the state of Louisiana. And, Louisiana and LSU are diverse in so many wonderful aspects including our people; the geography, from the coastal area to Northern Louisiana; and including a variety of cultures unique to Louisiana. Clearly, LSU has already seen much success, and I see it as a place where I can have an impact and add to the great success of the campus. [My wife] Susan and I have lived in the South, and we enjoy the Southern culture, the Southern hospitality and interacting with such wonderful people.

Had you ever been to campus before?
I had not been on campus before, so the visits this spring were my first. What I found was a beautiful campus. I am learning that it’s a campus with a lot of history around the buildings, architectural history; and a campus that is growing to better accommodate the student body. Of course, there are great sports facilities. Something impressive that I remember during my first visit was when they had an evening reception at Tiger Stadium, and they took me to an area where you could look out over the stadium with the lights on. It had the wow factor. That’s the SEC feeling. Again, it’s just a great area, so very attractive and invigorating.

How have your stops at Alabama and Kansas prepared you for this position?
I’ve been in higher education for more than 25 years. I’m not saying I’ve seen it all, because every day brings a different blend of challenges, but certainly that time has included budget challenges and times of developing strategic plans, growing research programs, growing academic programs, and working with the legislature and governors – I’ve had a lot of experience in doing those things.

Stuart Bell
LSU’s new Executive Vice Chancellor & Provost Stuart Bell, who will officially begin on Aug. 2, brings with him more than 25 years of experience in higher education.
Jim Zietz/University Relations

I think we have a great future at LSU. Yes, we have budget challenges and these will be front and center, top priorities to address. But we cannot allow that to consume our energy of progress; whatever our role at the university, we must focus in a positive way there. If you move above those challenges, the opportunities at LSU are huge. If you look at the base of what makes Louisiana successful, LSU is right at the apex. It is our capability of discovery and of providing a world-class education for the people of Louisiana that will make the difference for this state. Young people coming to campus, preparing for roles in our society, for careers where they can make a difference in the state and in their communities. LSU plays such a critical role in the success of Louisiana.

I’ve also spent a lot of time working with alumni and donors in my current position at the University of Kansas. Probably 10 or 20 years ago, we would talk about the support of our alumni and foundations as being the icing on the cake. The reality today is that the support is the cake, a main ingredient. This support is not just something nice to have; it’s the buildings that we educate our students in, the scholarships and professorships to support students and faculty, all critical to how we’re going to move forward as a national flagship university. LSU is at that point. We have great, loyal donors, and we must continue building on our success, on that solid base.

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve also had a good bit of experience working with the legislature, both at the federal and local levels in Kansas and Alabama, and I think that experience will be useful as I move into this new position.

What opportunities do you see at LSU?
There are many opportunities for us at LSU. Building on the already broad and successful research mission and productivity of the programs at LSU is a great opportunity that we have now. And, we are growing enrollment; the growth of students coming into LSU is very encouraging and certainly important for what our mission is as an institution. If you were at an institution that was shrinking in enrollment, coupled with state budget decreases, you could have a stifling challenge financially. With our academic programs, we have so many strong and well known academic programs at LSU; I think there’s real opportunity to talk more about those.

The South does not brag on itself very often, so we have to do a better job of telling the rest of the world about the great things that are going on at LSU. I have talked with a number of people who say, ‘You know, I was at a conference and someone was telling me how good the programs are at LSU.’ I think that’s another opportunity, of how we message that outside of the university locally, state wide and nationally. 

What do you see as some of the biggest challenges you are going to face?
With almost every opportunity, there are challenges. Whether you talk about the undergraduate student body and the programs we deliver, the graduate and research programs that we deliver … there are challenges associated with every one of those. Certainly from a budgetary standpoint, we have challenges, but those are also opportunities to communicate the impact that LSU has on the state and that’s huge. If you look at what we do for the state and are really able to capture that impact and communicate it effectively, it will help and pay dividends in the future. Those challenges and opportunities really go hand in hand.

What will be your first steps be when you get on campus in August?
Aside from the many meetings that are necessary and getting up to speed on the operations of campus, I plan to make time to have conversations across campus and listen to the campus. That will include departments, colleges and schools, and seeing what’s on the minds of the faculty, of the staff, and of the students, really just learning. It will be about communicating, and having the conversation to understand what makes LSU’s heart beat, and what we all want LSU to achieve.

You know what gets us into higher education are the students. I enjoy being around students. In my current job, whenever I’m having a really hard and tough time, all I need to do is go out and strike up a conversation with two or three students and you realize why you’re here and why what we do is so important. It re-energizes you, so going out of the office and being a part of the campus is going to be very important for me.

Our challenge is going to be that there’s only 24 hours in a day. How do I take those hours in the day and do everything that I need to do in communicating and planning and of course, meeting the challenges before us? I know that we won’t be able to do all of it in the first few weeks; it’ll take a while.

What do you like to do in your spare time?
As with many families, much of our time has been spent together as a family; but recently now, our children are moving and transitioning in their lives too. Our oldest son, Stuart, graduated about a year ago as a chemical engineer. He is working in Beaumont, Texas, and it will be good to be closer to him. Our daughter, Stacy, graduated from the University of Alabama – can I say that? – last December and is married and lives in Raleigh, N.C., with her husband, Michael. Our youngest son, Stephen, will begin his sophomore year at KU this fall.

Susan and I love to watch college sports, and we love the arts and music. So we look forward to attending many of the programs that LSU and Baton Rouge has to offer.

What is your favorite sport?
My favorite sport is whatever we do well.  So it sounds like I will have many favorite sports at LSU!   

What are your thoughts on your alma mater, Texas A&M, making the move to the SEC? Are you excited personally to be back in SEC country?
First, I am really excited to get back into the SEC. I am excited to see A&M play in the same conference – that will be great. Obviously, we have fond memories; both Susan and I graduated from A&M and like to keep up with the Aggies. But, we will also be Tiger fans very shortly – Geaux Tigers!

How will you Love Purple and Live Gold when you get to LSU?
I have much more to learn about the LSU campus, but I think that is such a great mantra because quite frankly, you can’t accomplish great things unless you have passion and live that passion out.  If you are not passionate about what you do, you’ll never get to the gold.

I’m very passionate about faculty. I’m very passionate about the programs, whether those are academic or research programs. I’m passionate about what our mission is for students, taking them from where they are when they come to campus, to what they’ll be when they graduate. I think the gold is what they achieve. The gold is… whether it’s our researchers, our teachers, or our students… it is what we aspire to and achieve. It’s a great way to encapsulate what the university’s mission is all about. It’s tapping into passion because when you are working with your passion, you’re doing your very best and you’re giving all that you have, and it’ll get you the gold every time.

Anything else you’d like to add?
Susan and I are so excited to be here. We’re looking forward to August when we get on campus and can really spend 24-7 here, learning and meeting the many people on campus and in the community. We’re just looking forward to coming to campus and embracing the fall semester and getting underway.