He’s been at the helm of Georgia Southern for 100 days. He moved 1,000 miles from Huntsville, Texas to assume leadership of the University in July. He is one of four children from Abbeville, Louisiana, population 12,000. He holds three degrees from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. He spent 20 years of his career at Sam Houston State University. He reads statistical theory for fun. He is a numbers man. He is Dr. Jaimie Layne Hebert, the 13th president of Georgia Southern University.
He was tantalized by math at an early age. “As a child, my father would give me a math problem to work like it was a game,” he recalled. “I was challenged early on by him to enjoy the relationships of numbers.”
One of 14 children, Dr. Hebert’s father became the first on either side of the family to graduate from high school. He attended U.L. Lafayette and became a math teacher, then helped his brothers and sisters through school.
Dr. Hebert’s father also greatly influenced his life and the lives of his siblings.
“My brother and his two sons became engineers, one sister a math teacher, and another sister, 14 years older than me, taught high school English,” he said. “I was in her class. She always knew what I had for homework.”
Growing up in Abbeville, Dr. Hebert enjoyed the outdoors, too. He went fishing and hunting with his dad and his brother on the bayous flowing from St. Landry Parrish southward along the Vermilion River through Abbeville which is located in Vermilion Parish. The French names from this area of Louisiana are significant.
The French people who settled there are known as Acadians.
“We were here ten years before the Pilgrims,” Dr. Hebert said.
The word “Cajun” is derived from the French word “Acadian.” Dr. Hebert comes from a long line of Acadian descendants.
“My grandmother hardly spoke English,” he said. “My family has been in the South Louisiana region for a long time.”
The Heberts can be traced back to brothers Etienne and Antione Hebert who settled first in Nova Scotia, then in the land of Acadia in the early 1600’s. The family came over from Nantes, France.
The Cajun culture of South Louisiana is distinct with its own dialect, mores, music and cuisine. It’s a culture of tight knit communities and pride of identity. An identity that Dr. Hebert brings with him to Georgia Southern.
“When I got here, I could relate to the culture and the traditions that are a large part of Georgia Southern and what the University is about,” he said. “I was drawn by the academic reputation of the University and I couldn’t help but recognize the University’s athletic achievements.”
The close knit community surrounding the University also felt familiar.
“The community has opened its arms,” he said, “That has been the icing on the cake.”
Dr. Hebert already feels at home calling Statesboro a place “where you can talk about math on a bass boat.”
He’s also an avid reader with a wide range of interests. “I’m one of those people who has three books going at once,” he said. “I’ll be reading a personal development or self-help book, along with a book on math or science, and some fun fiction.”
For fun reading Dr. Hebert especially enjoys the crime novels of best-selling Southern author James Lee Burke, many of which are set in New Iberia, Louisiana, just 20 miles from Abbeville, where he grew up.
“I recognize a lot of the locations and characters in his novels,” he said.
He also reads books by Peter Dickinson. Books about the theory of mathematics and statistics.
“I just fell in love with theoretical statistics,” he said.
He was encouraged to pursue his doctorate by the late mathematics and statistics professor Dr. Thomas Boullion at U.L. Lafayette.
“I went back for his retirement and told him how much he had influenced me,” Dr. Hebert said, “It meant so much to him because he had no idea. That’s why I encourage students to go back and tell an educator what he or she meant to them. People like that have an impact on young lives, and that’s my personal goal as president.”
Dr. Hebert hopes to both encourage and prepare students for the future.
“Our programs are designed to be hands-on programs that truly prepare students for the workforce,” he said. “Engineering has a 100% employment rate, and with those graduates there is an immediate impact on the economy and the workforce. Programs like Nursing and Education have an immediate impact on the community as well, and on Georgia citizens in general.”
What role does Dr. Hebert see the University playing in spurring economic growth in the area?
“We are in the business of transforming families. It’s a very personal mission for me because my own family has been transformed through higher education. I think we have a responsibility to the state of Georgia to provide affordable access to education so we can continue to meet the needs of students and to grow the student population as the general population of the region increases,” Dr Hebert stated.
He believes Georgia Southern football also plays an important part in the economic development of the area.
“You can’t pay for the recognition the University receives because of the Georgia Southern Eagles reputation on the playing fields,” he said. “Sports are an integral part of the institution that bring us national attention. When you’re successful in sports, it opens the doors of the University to show how well we excel in the realm of academics, too.”
“I see the University as part of a broader economic fabric,” he said, “I see it as a catalyst for economic development. I think we can continue to work together with Statesboro and Bulloch County and dovetail our ambitions. I think the economy of this area is ready to explode with progress and I see Statesboro and Georgia Southern right in the middle of what’s coming.”