Southeastern Magazine

A New Era of Leadership: President William S. Wainwright

Dr. William S. Wainwright was officially named the University’s next president—the 15th in its long 98-year history.

Sheri Gibson

December 14, 2023


On April 27, 2023, within the neutral-colored stadium-like chamber of a state office building in downtown Baton Rouge, the next chapter in Southeastern’s epic story began. Dr. William S. Wainwright was officially named the University’s next president—the 15th in its long 98-year history.

William Wainwright

“When I found out that I was going to be the next president of Southeastern, my first reaction was gratitude,” said Wainwright. “Gratitude to the search committee and to the Southeastern family for heavily vetting their next president. To have been selected is a true honor, and it’s one that I take very seriously. It’s an incredible responsibility. It’s one that I wake up and go to bed with top of mind every day.”

This changing of the guard began in January 2023 when Southeastern’s 14th president, Dr. John L. Crain, announced his retirement after leading the institution for the past 15 years and being a member of the faculty and staff for a total of 37 years. To find the right person to next take the helm and help guide the University into the future, the University of Louisiana System, under which Southeastern is a member, quickly began an extensive presidential search process.

After an open application period, followed by selection of qualified applicants then a first round of interviews, four semifinalists were selected. These candidates, including Wainwright, visited campus for public forums, as well as closed interviews. From there, the final two were selected, moving on to one last round of interviews and then awaiting a decision on that breezy, sunny April day. And as fate would have it, it was Wainwright’s name that would reverberate through the room. The Board of Supervisors of the University of Louisiana System had officially named him Southeastern’s 15th president.


“Southeastern has been a pivotal part of our family since our children were little,” Wainwright explained when asked why he wanted to be part of the Southeastern family. “We’ve had opportunities to engage in Southeastern through STEM summer camps and through having our children attend athletic events, but also as a prior college leader over the Northshore’s community college, many of the faculty and staff who’ve built [NTCC] are graduates of Southeastern. So, I’ve had firsthand knowledge of the success of Southeastern’s graduates.

“When the opportunity came about for me to consider applying for president, it was really the only opportunity that my wife and my family and I felt would have been best for us at this time. I’m excited to dive into the mission, and the last few months with our Southeastern family, since my start on June 5, have been incredible. I couldn’t ask for more.”


Wainwright is indeed uniquely qualified for the post. Prior to his time at Southeastern, he had accrued over 24 years of progressive leadership experience in higher education. Most recently, he served for 12 years as chancellor of Northshore Technical Community College (NTCC). During his tenure at NTCC, he helped lead exponential growth and success for the institution, expanding campuses and tripling enrollment, causing NTCC to become one of the fastest-growing community colleges in the nation.

“Serving as chancellor of Northshore Technical Community College has certainly prepared me for the role [of president] at Southeastern, as many of our Northshore students were on a transfer path to the University. By virtue of alignment of transfer pathways into the critical demand programs at Southeastern, [at NTCC] we’ve been able to walk the journey with our students and collaborate with many of the faculty and staff at Southeastern.”

Prior to NTCC, his positions have included faculty member, dean, grant facilitator, vice president of business development and training, and chancellor, as well as interim chancellor at Delgado Community College.

Additionally, Wainwright has received national and global recognition. He has served as a Salzburg Global Leadership Fellow and as a Harvard Institute for Educational Management Fellow. In Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, he applied his expertise to help community colleges seeking accreditation and was a self-study trainer for Jeddah Community College. He also led innovative, multi-college study abroad initiatives to Costa Rica, Amsterdam, and Dubai.

Scholarly contributions have also been abundant and include presentations pertaining to higher education institutions’ strategies and successes, which were given across the state, nation, and globe.

His formal education encompasses a bachelor of science in criminal justice from the University of Southwestern
Louisiana, a master of education in adult and continuing education from Northwestern State University, and a
doctorate of philosophy in higher education administration from the University of New Orleans.

In addition to being the recipient of numerous awards and honors, Wainwright has also been deeply involved in
professional and community organizations, including having served on the boards of Workforce Investment Area 20; Washington Economic Development Foundation; Northshore Charter School Inc.; GNO, Inc; Northshore Business Council; St. Tammany West Chamber of Commerce; Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System; and, most recently, United Way of Southeast Louisiana. He is additionally the president of St. Tammany Corporation; former president of COMBASE, Conference of Louisiana Colleges and Universities, and Board of Family Promise of St. Tammany; and has served as chair of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System Finance and Administration Committee, Louisiana Community and Technical College System Advancement, Public Affairs, and Legislative Affairs Committee, and Louisiana Community and Technical College System Finance Committee. Most recently, he was selected as a member for the Committee of 100 for Economic Development, Inc., Louisiana’s business roundtable promoting public policy that makes Louisiana more competitive in retaining existing business and industry and attracting more innovative businesses to Louisiana.


The importance of education to Wainwright, who grew up in the then small rural community of Broussard, Louisiana, is clear—and it’s something for which he gives a lot of credit to his family. “My father graduated high school and went on to work in the oil and gas industry,” he said. “And the reason education is so important to me is because my mother stopped out of high school and at a later age went on to earn her GED. And if she would not have earned her GED, I certainly would not have achieved the level of education that I’ve had today.”

Wainwright’s first dream path was quite different than the one he ended up choosing, though with interesting overlap.

“I wanted to be a meteorologist,” he said. “I was fascinated by the weather. Still today I’m fascinated by the weather. And it is not uncommon that in my job as president, I’m watching the weather and making sure that we’re taking proper precautions for the safety and health of our students.”

In college, his second passion, criminal justice, took hold, and Wainwright majored in the subject as part of his initial pursuit of a career in law.

But the plans one envisions as a child and young adult often diverge down a different road as experience, inner reflection, and opportunities unfold. And for Wainwright, it was a love for and belief in higher education that eventually won out—creating an unmistakable and well-worn path he has now unwaveringly traveled for decades.

“My best days are when I’m able to engage with our students. I’m able to see the impact of our faculty on
our students, whether it’s through their success in the classroom, their success after graduation in the community, or their success as they rise through the ranks in business and industry,” said Wainwright.


Settled into his new position and home on campus for a few months now, he’s already well into leading the University forward, drawing on personal experience, current research and market trends, partnerships, and an understanding of where we’ve come from to determine our path forward.

“I always like to look at lessons learned through looking at where we began,” Wainwright explained. “Southeastern Louisiana University was founded as a junior college, and at the time that was critically important to build a future for this region. And quickly, the University emerged from junior college status to four-year university, and then you began to see incorporations like the lab school and other significant infrastructure developments that were critically important.

“One of the lessons learned from this is that progress takes time. It takes intentionality. It takes strategic focus
and vision. And so, as we enter the next 100 years, I look forward to leading our university and implementing a bold vision and strategic plan for our future that will carry us to the next 100 years.”


To this end, on August 11, 2023, at Southeastern’s annual Convocation, a long-established tradition of all University employees coming back together before the start of a fresh academic year, Wainwright announced a shared vision and shared responsibility for Southeastern. This came from conversations about Southeastern’s strengths; listening to students, faculty, and staff; learning from regional leaders; and much more with the intent of serving as a guide and a roadmap to Southeastern’s future.

This plan purports that “In 2025, Southeastern will celebrate 100 years of excellence in higher education. In 2125, Southeastern will be a global leader in higher education innovation by design and dedication to mission.” Additionally, four pillars were established to help guide the way: 1. The Student Experience; 2. Faculty and Staff Investment; 3. Competitive Edge; and 4. Educational, Economic, and Cultural Development.

“I have a bold vision for the future of Southeastern for us to be the leading university in the University of Louisiana System and in the state of Louisiana,” Wainwright said. “And we do that through research. We do that through continued analysis of markets and ensuring that the programs we’re providing are relevant and important to our regional economy, that we can build successful communities and, most importantly, prepare families for success in our region. That’s critically important to ensure that our students have the foundation that’s necessary for them to be successful.”


“I do not believe in challenges; I believe in opportunities,” he added. “And if you look across the spectrum of all of higher education, there are enrollment concerns. However, Southeastern is bucking the national trends with a recent 2.9 percent enrollment growth. The real opportunity for Southeastern is truly knowing our students, understanding our markets, and also positioning Southeastern to be a global player in higher education.”

Wainwright credits his wife and children for his success in higher education. His wife Misty is an accomplished licensed mental health therapist who has championed women’s mental health and helped thousands on the Northshore. He counts his son Zachary and daughter Ella Grace as he and Misty’s greatest accomplishment. “Our children challenge us, keep us relevant, and inspire us in countless ways,” he said.


View more Southeastern Magazine