by Jennifer L. Williams | May 24, 2019
Gene Roche has had a hand, literally and figuratively, in connecting so many people on the William & Mary campus that he could qualify to wear many more hats than he already has.
There’s the wired aspect, which includes his long history of working in information technology. Then there’s the human part of influencing departments, campus-wide planning and too many people to count.
For his years of efforts in myriad areas Roche was selected as the 2019 recipient of the Shirley Aceto Award, which is given in honor Aceto's years of dedicated service as a member of the professional faculty working in the Office of the Provost.
The Aceto Award is presented annually to a member of the instructional or professional faculty who demonstrates an exceptional commitment to excellence in service to the campus community. Roche, currently executive professor of higher education, will receive the honor at a June 12 reception.
Roche noted that he worked closely with Aceto in his early years at the university and is an admirer of previous recipients of the award.
“All those are people who I just have great respect for what they’ve contributed to the institution,”
Roche said. “I’ve worked with many of them over years on projects ranging from collaborative writing and facilities planning to faculty diversity and technology integration. In every case, they’ve demonstrated the kind of creativity, energy and commitment that defines William & Mary. I’m very proud to be considered as part of that group.”
Early on at W&M, Roche served as IT’s director of communications and organizational development and director of academic information services for 15 years, and as director of University eLearning Initiatives for two years. As part of his e-learning responsibilities, he worked extensively with faculty at the Raymond A. Mason School of Business in designing the university's first fully online master’s program for the MBA.
After moving to the W&M School of Education in a full-time faculty position, Roche specialized in adult and continuing education for K-12 administrators and higher education faculty and staff. His research interests focus on understanding advances in artificial intelligence, robotics, deep learning and the internet of things and how those technologies will impact the workplace and educational institutions of the next generation.
Roche spent this past academic year working with William & Mary Libraries and co-chaired the faculty integration subcommittee that helped launch the new Studio for Teaching & Learning Innovation that will be established in the fall. Next year, he will shift into continued part-time duties serving as the coordinator of the University Teaching & Learning Project.
“The two themes that have defined my work have been helping adults engage in lifelong learning and finding ways to use technology more effectively,” Roche said. “The demands on faculty members to learn new ways of connecting with the students are escalating, and it’s important that we find ways to support them to learn new tools and techniques in adapting to changes over their careers. This will be a core component of the new studio.
“Technology has been both a blessing and a curse in higher education. It’s a blessing because it’s allowed faculty to accomplish things in their research and teaching that were impossible for previous generations. It’s a curse because no one can keep up with all the hardware and software changes that are transforming learning. One of my most important goals has been to help faculty focus on technology projects that are most likely to help them become more productive and creative in accomplishing their goals.”
Roche’s personal style has made him invaluable in endeavors that have involved groups across W&M’s campus, according to those who recommended him for the award.
“Rarely does a single individual touch so many across our institution,” wrote Vice Provost for Academic and Faculty Affairs Ann Marie Stock and Dean of University Libraries Carrie Cooper in their recommendation letter.
“It is no hyperbole to say that this devoted individual has transformed our institution in exceedingly important ways,” their letter continued. “Dr. Roche represents an inspiring academic leader for the 21st Century; his mode is at once creative, collaborative and effective in establishing connections and building linkages. He possesses an ability to listen respectfully, a willingness to work diligently without expecting praise, and a knack for convening teams and moving forward discussions.”
Larry Pulley, dean of the business school, wrote in his letter of recommendation of Roche: “As a change agent at W&M, he has been a leader in helping the university navigate the complex and rapidly changing domain of technology and pedagogy in higher education.
“He is an exceptional individual, having a unique combination of technical, educational and leadership skills that are almost impossible to find in one person,” Pulley’s letter continued.
Roche said he is motivated by those around him, is continually fascinated by how many people working at W&M care so much for one another and for students, and remain curious about the world’s potential and passionate about their disciplines.
“I’m just fascinated when I walk into somebody’s lab or their art studio or their classroom and find out all the creative and innovative things that they’re doing,” Roche said. “Educational technology connects to virtually everything we do at the university, and I’ve been able to work on interesting projects in almost every discipline. One benefit of working on those projects is helping to bring together faculty and students who might not generally interact and to help them see new possibilities in the work they are already doing.”
His extreme care is evident when his graduate students at the School of Education talk about working with him.
Ph.D. student Daria Lorio-Barsten described Roche’s taking the time to genuinely and caringly interact with every student he comes into contact with.
“Dr. Roche's sense of everlasting wonder, kind humor and his contagious enthusiasm fosters one's sense of curiosity and allows one to dream more,” Lorio-Barsten said. “Dr. Roche's instructional approach centers around his deep value of and commitment to self-directed learning. He ignites his students' curiosities and allows an incredible amount of freedom in finding ways to take charge of students' own learning. After two classes with Dr. Roche, I am a better learner and a better human being.”
Roche served as a doctoral dissertation committee member, mentor and professor for independent studies for Yi Hao Ph.D. '19, giving her the opportunity to learn from him for the past two years.
“The amount of knowledge, curiosity, and experiences Dr. Roche shared with me has transformed me as a learner and my educational approaches to be ultimately learning-oriented,” said Hao, who received the Thatcher Prize for Excellence in Graduate and Professional Study at Commencement. “He has helped not only me, but also many other students throughout their doctoral journeys and intellectual quests in a way that is incredibly supportive and goes beyond his positional titles. As a long-serving W&M leader himself, he embodies humanitarian and lifelong learning in every role he has undertaken and touches the minds and souls he interacts with.”
Prior to coming to W&M, Roche worked as director of career services and as a career counselor for 14 years at Hamilton College. There he honed what has become his career philosophy, which keeps him interested in his whatever he’s currently working on.
“I believe that all of us make choices in our work that can lead us to more interesting and creative careers,” he said. “If we are even a little more intentional about how we approach the projects we work on and our relationships with other people, we can open up new opportunities to shape our careers and contribute to the future of the institution.
“I’ve been extremely fortunate at William & Mary in having the flexibility to work on challenging projects with incredibly supportive colleagues for more than 20 years. Can’t ask for more than that.”