A total of 1,786 degrees were awarded during the UL Lafayette’s 161st Commencement ceremonies Friday at the Cajundome and Convention Center.
Dr. Robert Stewart is no stranger to helping government departments, agencies and universities move forward in terms of research and technology. He did so for 30 years with the U.S. Department of the Interior, spending 25 of those years directing the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Wetlands Research Center.
Now, Stewart is applying his skills on an academic level at UL Lafayette as he begins a new phase in his career – vice president for Research and Graduate Studies. He replaces Dr. Duane Blumberg, the state’s Deputy Secretary of Economic Development. Stewart, a distinguished leader in wetlands research, is ready for the broad range of responsibilities associated with his new role.
“ I’m very impressed with the research and graduate studies programs here at UL Lafayette. We have fantastic resources and faculty who’ve accomplished many things and I’m ready to see what we have to do to raise the bar to the next level.”
In terms of research, Stewart said he wants to raise the community’s awareness of the important scientific work being conducted at UL Lafayette. Projects like CajunBot, an autonomous vehicle designed by students and faculty in the Engineering and Computer Science departments along with community leaders, are helping to advanced the military’s role during war. The vehicle uses special sensors and a global tracking device to “see” obstacles in its path. Hopes are to one day use such vehicles to detect landmines.
“ We should also be very proud of the role our university engineers, socio-economists and ecologists have played in battling coastal erosion in Louisana,” said Stewart. “Many of our scientists play important roles in improving our understanding of how these coastal systems work and how they are changing.
“ I want people in the community to know what we do and why we do it,” he continued. “I want the community to know why science and research is so important in our everyday lives and our futures.”
He also wants to continue the work of agencies and centers at UL Lafayette that promote economic development across the state. He wants to put his background in federal government to good use in his new position.
“ The university is continually trying to help local communities and every area of the state with business development ideas,” Stewart said. “I want to continue to offer this help including how to do business with the federal government.”
In graduate studies, Stewart wants to continue the trend of using technology to attract and retain students seeking advanced degrees. “We have a marvelous graduate program, and I don’t want the Graduate School to be the best kept secret,” he said.
With the increasing competition between universities for graduate schools students, Stewart said it’s a ‘must’ to use computer technology in everyday processes.
“ Many of the scientific advances we’ve seen in the past 50 years are directly linked to advances in computers,” he said. “We’ve got to put our best foot forward because of all the competition,” he said.
Stewart’s career accomplishments thus far include the highest employee recognition given by the Department of the Interior. He was given the Distinguished Service Award last month for his vision in using research and technology for scientific issues. Other career accolades include being named a Gulf Guardian by the EPA’s Gulf of Mexico Program in 2004 and the 2004 Professional Conservationist by the Louisiana Wildlife Federation.
“ Dr. Stewart brings a wealth of experience and knowledge that can be applied to every aspect of this vice presidency,” said UL Lafayette President Ray Authement. “He’s very talented and will be an asset to this university.”
Stewart is a 1966 graduate from Jamestown College where he earned a bachelor’s degree in biology. He earned master’s and doctoral degrees from North Dakota State University in Fargo.
His federal career started with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1974, working on national energy policies. In 1979, he became the leader of the service’s National Coastal Ecosystems Team which later evolved into what is now the USGS National Wetlands Research Center.