ultoday.com interviews the man charged with overseeing UL's core mission, Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Steve Landry.

Tell us about yourself.

As a kid, and even into adulthood, I really didn't have much sense about where my path would take me. I grew up in Houma; my dad was in the oil field, my mom stayed at home, neither of them finished high school. Both of them assumed I would go to college, but only because I was a good student, not because they really understood the importance of higher education.

Boy, from that humble beginning, to a technical career with IBM, and ending up today in academic administration... as someone said, you spend your whole life climbing the ladder, and then you're surprised when you see the wall it was leaning against.

I just had no idea about the opportunities I would meet in my career.

What do you mean?

I was the first in my family to go to college, so that was a huge turning point in my life. And then there were several people along the way, key mentors like so many of us had. I had a high school algebra teacher who saw in me much more than I ever saw in myself. She chose me as her rally student, and then she spent her lunch periods for half a year tutoring me. That's a pretty big investment. That was another critical point in my development.

Then when I was at Nicholls, my first computer science teacher was Dr. Raymond Folse, who just recently retired. He was the most well-prepared, well-focused, clear-minded teacher that I have ever experienced. That was another turning point for me, because he introduced me to computer science. So I changed my major from pure mathematics, to mathematics & computing. He was just phenomenal.

So then I go to work for IBM. At that time, IBM was the world's leading technology company. They had a professional development program that was par excellence. I was in Atlanta, or Poughkeepsie, or San Jose, or New Orleans, every other month for a training session... I even studied for two months in Chicago. And that was all on their dime. It was like being paid for post-graduate work. And remember, all I had was a Bachelor of Science from Nicholls.

Then when UL stepped up as a computing pioneer in the late 1960s and early '70s, that's when I left IBM to enter the emerging doctoral program here.

Why did you decide to get your PhD?

IBM was training their engineers so well that the company would loan tech people to colleges as faculty for a semester. So IBM loaned me to Southern University to teach a course on operating systems. While I was there, I had frequent meetings with Leroy Roquemore, the Department Head there. Those discussions with him really piqued my interest. Having that classroom experience, and talking with Leroy, that got me to apply for the UL doctoral program.

Frankly, I expected to be here at UL for my 4 years, and then either go back to IBM as a professional trainer, or go to another university. But UL brought in the Multix system, which was unprecedented at the time. So I stayed here as Associate Director of the Computing Center for Systems Software. Then I became Director, and then I joined the faculty.

I have to admit, that first job was the most rewarding part of my career. I'm not saying it's the most important part, and I'm certainly not knocking all the jobs I've had since then. But back then, I only had two guys working with me, and we had to design every piece of system software the University needed, everything. It's not like today where there is software for sale, or free on the internet. It's really hard to explain to people today just how bare it was, and how much work it took to get it up and running. It was like an architect who designs a radical new house, and finally gets to give the homeowner the keys to it. It was really exciting.

After that, being part of the UL Computer Science program in the 1980s was a great ride all its own. Computer science was booming nationally, our program was booming, and the relationships UL had in industry and research-- RCA, Texas Instruments, a lot of the big players-- it was phenomenal. So those were heady times.

Then in 1990s, I transitioned to Director of Research & Sponsored Programs.

Explain "Sponsored Programs."

Sponsored programs are initiatives with external funding, from government or industry-- programs like education of first generation college students, Veterans programs, traditional research, etc. The office has to insure that University interactions with agencies that support those programs are effective. So they include research and development, and a lot of communication and networking with the sponsors.

When I went into that job, I think the biggest realization after 6 months, is that the challenge for a university like ours is not finding meaningful things to do, or good ideas, but that the campus as a whole generates far too many high potential, great ideas, too many possible projects. You have 550 faculty, energized students and graduate students, and they're all coming up with great ideas-- how do you pick what the University will support.?

So in the 1990s, the Research Office was as exciting as computer science, but in a different way. The University was rapidly expanding its research programs, almost every College was adding more research faculty, we were getting more research funding, and the Foundation was growing.

And while all that was going on, UL was becoming Louisiana's leader in economic development. So UL was highly connected with what was going on all over the state. That's been Ray's forté all along... no one was doing as much as UL was at the time. Anyway, I was on 8 or 9 committees across the state dealing with economic development. In fact, when I took this job, I was cautioned that I would have to give some of that up.

Talk about the transition to Academic Vice President.

I took the VP job in Spring 2000. When I came in, the academic term had already started, SACS [Southern Association of Colleges and Schools] was coming in 2 weeks. By that time, the semester's at its height... everything is going on, you're recruiting faculty, recruiting and orienting students, you have the recognition programs for faculty and graduating students, so Spring is just packed. And every semester, we have two or three faculty who can't get back in the country. It's constant crisis management.

Then after just three weeks on the job, I met with the VPs from all the state universities. Right after their greeting, they asked me if I'd been sued yet.

After a month and a half on the job, I looked at my wife Paulette and said, "I'm not sure I knew what I was taking on."

It's a big transaction from the research side, the deliverables you need from the academic side-- classes, faculty, etc.-- are very different from faculty funding, government and industry relationships etc.

The other difference is about this job is that the academic calendar is relentless. After it's published, no matter how big the job, how many problems, what it says simply has to happen. The train has to keep running on time. And that's a big challenge.

But you know, after all the jobs I've had, I was never a Dean. When I was promoted to VP, one of my uncles said "If that boy keeps doing so well, some day he'll be Dean."

Doesn't look like I'll make it.

Talk about the changes you've seen at UL.

Well, one of the things I said at the Gala [the Alumni Association Gala honoring President & Mrs. Authément] was, "When the campus is really lovely in the Fall & the Spring, most people enjoy the weather and the beauty of the campus. But there are always a group of people walking around with a lot of anxiety, because that's always when the accreditation teams come through campus, three or four each semester." From where I sit, those evaluations are key benchmarks. You bring in out-of-state experts who look at everything, and then they give you a report.

Well, over the past few years the reports have been awesome. That's a very strong barometer of the health of this University. When you look at the accreditation reports, the research funding, graduate school production and placement, our strong licensure pass rates, etc., UL's moving fast.

Another thing that is proving the positive growth of UL's identity is that, while most of the universities in Louisiana are seeing declining enrollments, we're seeing an increase. We struggled for a couple of years with the effects of Katrina & Rita, but we're getting beyond that, and we're growing. With good funding, we will see some really great recruiting.

What do you see for the future?

UL is unusual in that we manage to maintain harmony among all the things that are important for a great University. UL's not a research university, we're not an undergraduate university, we're not an economic development university, we're all of those things, and a lot more.

We're a complete university, we manage to do it all well.

Part of that is a result of Ray's long-term leadership. But it also has to do with local cultural aspects that constantly reinforce the intellectual environment we have here. Look at the way our community embraces technology and the arts-- at the same time. That's just one example, but it gives you an idea of how our local culture contributes to our quality of life. And that helps us build a great University.

The increases in selective admissions are helping us improve our student body. That means we can not only reach our goals of a strong curriculum, but we're also getting quick learners, strong communicators, kids who can adapt quickly and learn.

Another thing that makes us great is that we've been nimble enough, when an opportunity presents, to figure out a way to seize it. We adapt. We're problem-solvers.

And we have a phenomenal group of Deans. They're not just committed to their Colleges, but to each other, to UL, to the community... I have a great team. That is so important, I just couldn't do this without these people. Every day I go to bed and I thank Heaven that I have such a great team in this game. If you have weak team, you're in trouble... we're not.

One more thing about recruiting of faculty and administrators. We can offer them a competitive salary, not the best in the field, but still quite good. But we can guarantee them that we will produce one of the best academic communities anywhere. We create our own community.

And that's why UL is going places, that's why we're great.

We build community.