ultoday.com interviews Dr. Stokes, the man charged with developing and directing the Cecil J. Picard Center for Child Development, soon to begin construction in the UL Research Park. In the first half of the interview, Dr. Stokes talks about the progress of the Center to date.

Tell us about yourself.

I was born and raised in Yazoo City Mississippi, in the Mississippi Delta. My parents only went to the 8th grade... I believe that was as far as they could go in the 1920’s. There was never a question that me or my brother and sister would finish high school. I think the fact that we all finished graduate programs was a point of pride with my parents. I wound up going to Louisiana Tech in 1965 on a basketball scholarship.

My degree was in education, trained originally to teach math & science. But when I graduated in 1968 there were no jobs available in math and science, the only job available was at a public residential facility for people with disabilities. So I worked there as a special education teacher, then later got my Masters' in Education at Tech, then my EdD at USM.

Then I became Assistant Principal at the Ruston State School, and from there, Principal at Pinecrest State School, which was the largest public facility in the state for people with disabilities. After that, I worked in the Louisiana Department of Education under Kelly Nix, where I became the State Director for Special Education Programs. When Dave Treen was elected Governor, I became the Assistant Secretary for Developmental Disabilities.

When Treen left, I became the Regional Director for Developmental Disabilities in the Baton Rouge-Hammond Region. I got my MBA from Tulane about that time. Later I went to Texas, where I was the Regional Director for Developmental Disabilities for the Austin Region.

When Buddy Roemer was elected Governor, his staff called and asked me to come back and merge the Office of Developmental Disabilities with the State Office of Mental Health and the State Office for Addictive Disorders into one office, the Office of Human Services.

After that, I thought I retired. However, I went to work as State Director for the Developmentally Disabled for the state of Alabama. I did that job for 6 years, worked through 3 governors, and then left and went to work with Dr Craig Ramey at the Civitan International Research Center at UAB, working again with developmental disabilities and early childhood programs. I worked there for another 6 years, and after that, I thought I retired again.

But then I came back to develop the Rockhold Center for Child Development at LSU, which was subsequently moved to UL and renamed the Picard Child Development Center.

It was originally named the Loyd J. Rockhold Center. Even though Mr. Rockhold's Special Children’s Foundation donated a lot of money to build the Center, he graciously allowed the State to re-name it.

How did that happen?

I think it's part of who Mr. Rockhold is. The money used to develop his foundation came from his non-profit work with people with disabilities. When he sold the nonprofits, the proceeds went into other nonprofits, and he has been extremely generous and gracious, not only with education but also with other non-profits such as the Boy Scouts and the Arthritis Foundation. His foundation donated $2 million to the building for the Picard Center, slated to start construction this Fall, and his foundation has established two endowed chairs and an endowed professorship here at UL.

Those are really good investments from his nonprofits, because he's invested in things that will live on. In addition, Louisiana matches donations for chairs and professorships 40:60, which increases the gift. So that money will never be spent, the corpus of the donation will continue and generate earnings to support the Center and UL at Lafayette. With those funds, we hope we will be able to recruit some strong scholars into those faculty positions.

With that, we have also had the support of Superintendent Cecil Picard and his family, who established the Picard Foundation. Tyron Picard and his family have been tireless in the development of their foundation and it now has substantial resources.

As for renaming the Center, it was Mr. Rockhold's desire to name if for Cecil, because none of this would have happened without him. Within the building, there will be a huge distance learning center named after Mr. Rockhold.

How's the work going?

The Center moved here July 1 2005, right before the hurricanes, and we're coming up on our 3rd anniversary. The two programs we were working on when we came here were the Reading First Program, and the LA4 Early Childhood Program, now renamed by legislation to the Cecil J. Picard LA4 Early Childhood Program.

We now conduct and evaluate research on the state School-wide Positive Behavior Program, and the state's before & after school programs. We conduct a survey among 200,000 students in the grades 6, 8, and 10, using the Communities That Care survey. The purpose of that is to assess children's risk-taking behavior in smoking, drinking, drugs & gambling.

We also do research on establishing the epidemiological demographics of various addictive disorders. We're currently working with the state on the development of a new project called Coordinated School Health. The newest program that we're looking forward to, the one that we believe will be our most important work, is establishing a longitudinal integrated database on children from birth through 25 years of age. That initiative is legislatively funded through the Board of Regents.

That's been the growth over the past 3 years, and I think the center has grown because of the support of Ray Authément, Steve Landry, Bob Stewart and the people in the different organizations in Acadiana. We have also tried to return that community support by providing data and other information back to agencies like the United Way and others.

That's important. I think we've succeeded because of where we are. Everyone here wants to see this work, and this is a very warm supporting place, one that cares about families and children.

In the second half of the interview, Dr. Stokes talks about the future of the Cecil J. Picard Center, and some of the data they have collected correlating education, income, and community development.

To read the second half, click here.