Gilbert Rochon arrived in Epworth, Iowa in the fall of 1964 when Divine Word College was brand new. Growing up Catholic with relatives who had entered religious life, he came here to discern a similar path by becoming a Divine Word Missionary. A little more than two years later, he made the decision to take his life in a different direction by entering the secular world.
That decision led to a well-traveled and highly decorated career in academics and research, that included work at four universities in the U.S. as well as 14 countries in Africa, seven in Asia and five in Latin America/Caribbean. This fall, Dr. Gilbert Rochon left a position at Purdue University as senior research scientist at the Rosen Center for Advanced Computing and director of the Purdue Terrestrial Observatory.
On Nov. 1, Dr. Gilbert L. Rochon became the sixth President of Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Alabama.
“Although I discovered at age 20 that my vocation was more rooted in improving the educational opportunities and quality of life for impoverished populations on this earth, more so than administering to their spiritual needs, the world continues to be my parish,” he said.
An impressive career
Born and raised in New Orleans, Rochon was frequently invited by his cousin, Bishop Leonard Olivier, SVD, to attend ordination ceremonies at St Augustine’s Seminary in Bay St. Louis, Miss. He attended the minor seminary there from 1960 to 1964 before heading to the Epworth seminary to further explore a life as a missionary priest. Choosing another path, he went on earn a Bachelor’s degree in English from Xavier University of Louisiana followed by a Master degree in Public Health from the Yale University School of Medicine, and a Ph.D. in Urban and Regional Planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Over the course of his academic career, Dr. Rochon has held positions at Dillard University (New Orleans), Tulane University, the University of Cincinnati and Purdue University. Concurrently, his vitae includes a long list of federal appointments, including positions at NASA, USDA Forest Service, Naval Oceanographic Office, Department of Defense, and the Environmental Protection Agency. Among his many international research fellowships, he received the Fulbright Senior Specialist Research Fellow (Thailand); United Nations University (UNU) Fellow (Sudan); and the Visiting Faculty Fellow-University of Oxford Environmental Change Unit (UK). He has delivered more than 100 presentations at professional conferences and published writings on subjects ranging from satellite remote sensing to biogenic and anthropogenic disaster mitigation.
Rochon has enjoyed a strong connection with the Catholic faith since his earliest years when he attended school and was an altar boy at Blessed Sacrament Parochial School in New Orleans. His life was also positively influenced not only by Bishop Olivier, but by a great aunt, Sr. M. Eucharia, OSP and an uncle, Roy Carrere, who was a Benedictine monk. Both he and his wife, Patricia S. Rochon, had sixteen years of Catholic education.
They have two children, both of whom are pursuing careers in medicine. Daughter Hildred Sarah Rochon, is a second year student at Brown University’s Alpert School of Medicine. Their son, Emile Saul Rochon is a second year student at the University of Queensland’s School of Medicine, in Brisbane, Australia.
Dr. Rochon is now the president of Tuskegee University, an institution of higher learning that has had only five presidents since it was founded by Booker T. Washington, in 1881.
“I am blessed to have such an historic opportunity,” Rochon said. “I am grateful for the guidance and mentorship provided by the SVD’s.