Today, June 30, 2020, University of Louisiana Monroe President Nick J. Bruno, Ph.D., and First Lady Linda, leave those titles behind as they end an almost 10-year chapter of their lives and begin a new one in retirement.
When Bruno announced he was retiring after the 2020 spring semester, he did not know that the most challenging days at ULM lay before him.
In early January, Bruno told his executive committee his last official act would be May 16, 2020, when he would confer diplomas on the largest class in ULM's history – 1,023 graduates.
By mid-February, the United States was warning residents of a fast-moving, crippling and sometimes deadly illness striking citizens young and old. The coronavirus, also called COVID-19, was claiming lives around the globe. On Feb. 28, more than 2,000 miles away from Monroe, La., in Washington State, the first COVID-19 death in the U.S. was reported, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
"At that time, there were many unknowns and questions about COVID-19, it's potential to spread, how to treat it, and how to stop it," Bruno said. "Among the first places identified for the likelihood of infection to spread were schools and universities. By early March, universities in the UL System knew we must make major changes and make them quickly.
At ULM, the first change was suspending face-to-face classes and moving all classes online. The second was implementing the CDC's social distancing and limiting the number of people at gatherings on campus. From the Oval Office to the state Capitol orders came swiftly and directly, setting off a domino effect that would forever change not only life at ULM, but everywhere else, too.
ULM spring events were canceled, athletics suspended, employees began working from home, students were asked to move out of campus residences if they could, and finally, the campus was closed to the public on March 25.
Following Gov. John Bel Edwards' phased reopening of the state, in late May and early June, some employees returned to campus. New guidelines for face masks, sanitization, and social distancing were in place.
Bruno worked closely with Edwin Litloff, Ph.D., appointed interim president by the UL System, to help prepare for the fall 2020 reopening.
"There were so many factors to consider in safely bringing students, faculty, and staff back to campus," said Bruno. "Dr. Litloff and the executive staff, directors, and managers are doing an excellent job preparing to welcome everyone back in the fall."
A scholarship honoring Dr. Brun
A group of Bruno's friends, who call themselves the Warhawk Coffee Club, established the Nick J. Bruno Endowed Scholarship in recognition of the retiring president. Friends supported the scholarship with a $25,000 endowment to the ULM Foundation.
The scholarship is for deserving full-time students pursuing an undergraduate degree. The recipients must meet ULM admission requirements and maintain a 2.5 GPA.
Donations to the Nick J. Bruno Scholarship may be made here, or to the Nick J. Bruno Scholarship, ULM Foundation, 700 University Ave., Monroe, LA 71209.
"I am deeply touched by this scholarship established by my coffee-drinking buddies and friends. Nothing could honor me more than knowing more students will receive the help needed to earn their college degree at ULM." he said.
A retirement reception for Bruno was held June 16 at Bayou Pointe, with ULM masks for guests available at the door. Friends and colleagues came to wish the president and Mrs. Bruno well and thank them for years of serving the university and the community.
Projects and completions under Dr. Bruno
After a 45-year career in higher education in Louisiana, Bruno stated in a Jan. 16, 2020, press release that the programs and projects in ULM's future would take "several years of coordination and commitment to be realized," and he could not commit to remaining in his position to see those projects to completion."
Since being appointed by the UL System as the eighth president of the university, projects and completions have defined Bruno's presidency. He began that role on Nov. 8, 2010.
As president, Bruno immediately reached out to the community by creating the Business & Community Advisory Committee, a group that analyzes the region's workforce needs. Bruno knew of the economic and educational needs of the area. From 2002-05, he served as ULM Associate Vice President for Business Affairs and then Vice President for Business Affairs. He departed ULM for the UL System office in Baton Rouge, where he was Vice President for Business and Finance for over five years before he was appointed president.
Bruno returned to ULM with a vision of taking the university beyond the geographic confines of Northeast Louisiana. He envisioned ULM on the national stage as an institution with dynamic research and offering more programs in the health sciences. He saw the university as an institution of higher education, providing multiple degree programs in high-paying, high-demand fields – the STEM majors of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
Bruno consolidated the university into four colleges in 2016, the College of Arts, Education and Sciences, College of Business and Social Sciences, College of Health Sciences, and College of Pharmacy. This move centralized schools, programs, and departments under deans dedicated to enhancing those fields within each college.
Under his leadership, in 2016, ULM was elevated from a regional to a national university by receiving the Carnegie R3 Doctoral University classification and recognition by U.S. News & World Report as a Best National University, both for the first time in its then-85-year history.
Among Bruno's most significant accomplishments at ULM – and there are many – was securing the partnership with the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine (VCOM) to build a medical school on the ULM campus. Where a groundbreaking ceremony was held in September 2018, today stands a $38 million-plus, 100,000 square-foot, four-story medical school. The first class of students will begin in 2020.
The benefits of a medical school are many, and one of the largest is the economic impact. VCOM's direct and indirect economic impact during the two-year start-up period is expected to exceed $60 million. By 2025, the economic impact of VCOM will grow to $78.9 million as graduates of the college begin practicing medicine in the region and state.
"VCOM will most importantly expand health care access for underserved populations. As a result, the healthier our people are, the healthier our community becomes, and it will be a higher quality of life for us all," said Bruno.
During Bruno's administration, facilities were added, expanded, and renovated. To name a few:
- $5 million renovations to Brown Stadium and Groseclose Track
- Construction of the $7 million Bayou Pointe Student Event Center
- Installation of a $3 million Doppler radar weather system
- Renovation of the former president's home, University House, which is a facility for campus guests
- Construction of the $800,000 Wally Jones Golf Complex
- Renovation of Sandel Hall, resulting in the first one-stop student center/academic building in Louisiana
- Sugar and Caldwell halls scheduled for renovation beginning in 2021 and will house the new Doctor of Physical Therapy School and health sciences classrooms and lab.
The ULM Foundation's SOAR Campaign started in 2013 with a goal of $55.4 million. When the campaign closed at the end of FY 2018, that goal was exceeded with a total of more than $56 million. It was the first capital campaign in ULM's history.
Campus beautification, enhanced technology in the classroom, and access for students, plus expanded campus housing, have been continuous under Bruno.
Serving the campus and the community
Bruno's presidency was more than a job. For him and Linda, it was their lives. Service to the community and the university has been their priority for nearly a decade
The Brunos hosted student groups at dinners to celebrate achievements – such as the ULM Water Ski Team for bringing home another national championship. They opened their Bon Aire home to honor outstanding faculty members and served employees holiday meals at the Student Union Building. Dr. and Mrs. Bruno greeted guests at the President's Suite in Malone Stadium for Warhawks football on Saturday nights. They were consistent attendees at most university events.
Bruno served on the boards of numerous civic, government, and private organizations. Too many to list them all, some are the West Monroe-West Ouachita Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, the Monroe Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, and the St. Francis Medical Center Board of Directors where he continues to serve. He is also a member of the Ouachita Business Alliance, and the Workforce Development Board Area 81.
Bruno was honored for his outstanding service in February 2020 with the Monroe Chamber of Commerce's highest honor, the Rambin-Silverstein Memorial Civic Award. The Rambin-Silverstein Memorial Civic Award recognizes a resident of Northeast Louisiana who has demonstrated achievement, leadership, and service for the benefit of the greater community.
"I am deeply, truly honored for the Rambin-Silverstein Memorial Civic Award," said Bruno. "I am humbled to receive such an honor from my peers and colleagues in this wonderful community."
Looking back and looking forward
Bruno is retrospective about his years leading the university.
"Many great things were accomplished due to the many amazing people I've had the pleasure of working with over the years. Nothing is done in a vacuum. No one person can do anything. It is only together that projects are conceived, planned, and then executed."
"I have been surrounded by people who shared a vision for the university. Whether faculty or staff, each brought their experience and expertise and added those talents to benefit ULM as a whole."
"What will I miss? Oh, many things, but cooperation and consensus for the greater good of the university and students are near the top of my list," he said.
What is at the top of his list?
"The students. Absolutely, the students," Bruno said. "When I see the accomplishments they make, in many cases overcoming significant obstacles, I am tremendously proud of each one.
"ULM serves an area of the country mired in economic stress, a population that has not had generations of educational and employment opportunities. Our students come to ULM to rise above the disadvantages they were born into – and I don't mean their family situations necessarily. I mean being here in the Louisiana Delta. They chose ULM as the institution that could give them the education they need to make the future better for themselves, their families, and the community around them. Perhaps they don't realize it at the time, but it is a powerful choice. One that I am honored to have been part of for these many years," he said.
The Brunos are returning to his roots in Tangipahoa Parish near the town of Amite. Their three children are grown; they have one grandson, Porter Joseph, who Bruno affectionately calls "PoJo," and a granddaughter on the way.
Life will be different under the moss-draped oaks of Louisiana's Florida Parishes, but not so far removed from the cypress trees lining Bayou DeSiard. Some morning, Nick Bruno may look up and see a red-tailed hawk gliding overhead and think of the time and the place when he was Warhawk No. 1.