The ‘first voice’ for at-risk students

Suanne Roueche (center right) with John Roueche (center left) and Austin Community College President Richard Rhodes (center back) at the the college's naming of its executive offices after the Roueches in 2012. (Photo: ACC)

Suanne Roueche, half of a legendary husband-and-wife team that for more than 40 years has helped shape the community college movement, passed away on December 24.

Suanne and John Roueche may be inseparable when it comes to working on perennial, practical books and articles on community colleges, but it was Suanne’s passion for addressing the needs of developmental education students and providing college teachers with best practices to serve them that brought her national acclaim. She led the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development (NISOD) for 20 years and built it into a premiere national resource for community college faculty and administrators.

“She was probably the first voice for underrepresented students,” Robert McCabe, former president of Miami Dade College in Florida, commented during an interview about Roueche in 2014. “She was the first to look at developmental education and say ‘We have to do better — that is important.’ She brought focus to this issue.”

“Suanne Roueche had a profound impact on the nation’s community colleges,” said Walter Bumphus, president and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC). “Knowing her for nearly 40 years as both a student in her classroom and as her supervisor at the University of Texas at Austin afforded me a front-row seat to her genius and her passion for helping tens of thousands of people.”

Bumphus noted that one of his most cherished moments is when he served as chair of the AACC board of directors and presented Suanne Roueche with the AACC National Leadership Award in 1997.

“It was so well-deserved, and there are so many community college professionals that benefitted from her research and continue to do so today,” he said.

Roueche’s years of accomplishments and leadership are only overshadowed by the meaningful way she engaged with people, Bumphus said.

“She leaves a significant legacy in the many community college leaders who have benefited from her mentoring and will continue to lead by her example,” he said. “Both professionally and personally, she will be deeply missed.”

Deep into details

Former AACC President George Boggs said Suanne Roueche “was one of our most important scholars and writers.” Together with John, the couple conducted some of the first and best research on remedial education in community colleges, Boggs noted, and also wrote about college effectiveness, the importance of quality in teaching, at-risk students and part-time faculty.

Suanne Roueche

“Suanne Roueche was a wonderful higher educational professional who cared deeply about students and community colleges and was always looking for excellence,” added Jerry Sue Thornton, the former long-time president of Cuyahoga Community College in Ohio. Thornton, who counts Suanne as a friend as well as a colleague on many projects at NISOD and the University of Texas, describes her as “very detail-oriented and very organized.”

“She had high standards that you saw in every project, every job, every task she did. That was her hallmark that everyone knew,” Thornton said.

That attention to detail is a trait John Roueche and others have credited in making her a superb editor on books and articles, as well as students’ papers.

“She was a very caring person, almost a perfectionist in her comments on my papers. She taught me quite a bit,” Boggs said of Roueche, who was his teacher at the University of Texas’ Community College Leadership Program (CCLP) in 1982.

“She had this kind of hard, tough will coupled with high expectations of quality and a sense of graciousness,” said Terry O’Banion, chair of graduate faculty at National American University, who worked with the Roueches on many projects over several decades. “If you had her as a teacher, you were absolutely delighted in the end that she was your critic. She had your best interests at heart.”

“What I loved about her most,” he added, “was that she helped all of us become better people.”

Texas roots

A selection of books co-authored by Suanne Roueche.

Suanne Roueche began her education career teaching English in a Texas high school before moving to El Centro College, where she taught for several years. That’s where she met John, who in 1972 was invited to deliver commencement at the college. While touring the school, he was impressed with how Suanne worked with developmental education students and suggested that she attend CCLP.

She initially declined, but a year later Suanne decided to attend the program at UT, according to the recent book Unexpected Influences: Women Who Helped Shape the Early Community College Movement, which has a chapter dedicated to Suanne Roueche, focusing on celebrating teaching excellence.

She and John married shortly after she completed her doctorate in 1976. A year later, their first co-authored book was published, Developmental Education: A Primer for Program Development and Evaluation.

Nurturing NISOD

Over the next few years Suanne directed CCLP’s Community College Internship Program and a literacy development project funded by the National Institute of Education. She also kept researching and writing books and articles about teaching and learning. And she began to work on using NISOD as a vehicle to reach educators and leaders. She was the founding editor of “Innovation Abstracts,” NISOD’s weekly teaching tips publication, as well as editor of the institute’s quarterly newsletter “Linkages.”

Under her leadership, NISOD grew from 50 members in 1977 to more than 750 in 2008, when she retired as its director.

The idea for NISOD came over breakfast. She and John were having breakfast at AACC with a Kellogg program fellow, who asked if they ever thought about compiling best practices to share with community college instructors.

As a result, she said in a 2012 interview with Diverse magazine, “NISOD was born on a breakfast napkin. We laid out bringing colleges in as members, having an annual conference, a weekly teaching tips newsletter written by practitioners for practitioners.”

Accolades abound

Suanne has been recognized for her contributions to higher education and to the professional growth and development of community college educators with numerous honors, including the AACC National Leadership Award (1997) and Distinguished Senior Scholar Award (1994) from AACC’s Council of Colleges and Universities. In 1988, she received the Distinguished Research and Writing Award from the National Council for Staff, Program and Organizational Development.

In 2012, in recognition of the long tradition of excellence in community college teaching and leadership, the League for Innovation at the Community College established the John & Suanne Roueche Excellence Awards. In the same year, Austin Community College named its executive offices in honor of the Roueches.

The greater good

Suanne Roueche also touched lives outside of community colleges. Since 2001, Suanne volunteered in leadership roles with the nonprofit Assistance League of Austin, a local chapter of the National Assistance League, which helps to provide food, clothing and school supplies to thousands of K-12 students. She served two terms as its president, as well as the chapter’s chair of grants and its scholarship program.

Suanne also served on committees with the National Assistance League, which has more than 122 chapters across the country. She was its national director of philanthropic programs from 2009 to 2011 and chair of its National Task Force for Philanthropic Program Assessment from 2011 to 2014.

Suanne Roueche also had an affinity for wildlife. In 2000, she became a state-certified wildlife rehabilitator, focusing on rescuing orphaned opossums until they were strong enough for release. She served with the National Opossum Society, the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association, Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation and Austin Area Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation.

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