Denise Trauth learned the value of education at an early age — it got you out of doing the dishes.
Denise Trauth and her six sisters all learned this lesson growing up in Cincinnati. “We knew we could get out of washing dishes if we told our mother that we had homework,” she remembers. “So we were always doing homework.”
Mother Trauth wound up washing a lot of dishes into many nights, but the girls got the message she wanted them to have: that education was important. They must have taken it to heart — all of them (one is deceased) have terminal degrees in their fields, which range from civil engineering to theater.
Texas State’s president was the second of the seven daughters. Dad was a CPA, a first-generation college graduate who believed that education was the route to a different way of living. He believed in the “transformational power of higher education” and passed that belief on to his girls. “College was certainly transformational in his case,” Trauth says, “and I believed it was, too — at least at first — because he believed it.
“I believe it more than ever now," Trauth says. "Higher education is transformational not only in terms of economic status but also in how we engage as citizens in a democracy, how we engage in life itself.”
The sisters went to Catholic girls’ schools, where Trauth says she encountered dozens of strong female role models and routinely saw women in leadership roles.
In high school, she discovered journalism. “I had always liked to write and loved working on the school newspaper,” she says. She took that love with her to the College of Mount St. Joseph (Ohio), where she majored in English because they didn’t have journalism (but they did have a school newspaper and a journalism minor). She taught high school English and journalism in Michigan for two years, earned her master’s degree in journalism at Ohio State and entered the doctoral program in mass communications at the University of Iowa.
There she met John Huffman, who was already enrolled in the doctoral program, and a career-long professional association, as well as a romance, blossomed. She and Huffman married in 1973 and have authored numerous publications together since, particularly in the areas of mass communication and telecommunications law and policy and First Amendment issues. They have two adult daughters — one a special education teacher in Iowa and the other a corporate attorney in Florida — and four grandchildren.
Their parallel faculty careers took them to the University of Tulsa, then Bowling Green State, then the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. At Bowling Green, between 1977 and 1993, Trauth progressed from assistant professor to professor. She also chaired a department and was associate dean of the Graduate College. She went to Charlotte as dean of the graduate school and associate vice chancellor for graduate programs, providing leadership for the university’s first doctoral programs (in electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, and applied mathematics) and development of 11 new graduate programs, among other things. She was also instrumental in the self-study process for NCAA certification.
In 1997 she was named provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at UNC Charlotte. In that capacity, she administered more than 80 percent of the university’s budget and led the campus through two rounds of strategic planning. She headed the process for reclassification to Carnegie’s Doctoral Research-Intensive category, something Texas State has planned but not yet achieved. Under her leadership, the university integrated distance education into the curriculum and developed a new college of information technology, a new campus and its first residence hall-based learning community. Trauth also established the Faculty Center for Teaching, led the revision of the general education requirements and chaired an equity study on faculty salaries.
Trauth was named president of Texas State June 11, 2002, after a unanimous vote of the Board of Regents and after six months of work by a search committee of faculty, staff, students, alumni, and members of the community, aided by a national executive search firm.