DR. DAVID HOOD: Provost and Academic VP Views ‘Meaningful Connections’ and Strong Work Ethic as Key Means to College and Life Success

‘Students Don’t Care What You Know Until They Know That You Care’

Dr. David Hood, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs.

With his own life as a prime example, Dr. David Hood’s experience with “meaningful connections” continues to drive his passion for education that goes the extra mile toward student success.

Just completing his fourth month as Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs, Hood said previous educational experiences that traversed from Alabama junior high teacher to associate provost at Montclair University in upper New Jersey prepared him for his new responsibilities at Minnesota State Mankato.

“I think it goes back to a core principle that I’ve had since I was a 7th grade, 8th grade history teacher. Students don’t care what you know until they know that you care,” Hood said. “I can be the most amazing academic. If students don’t genuinely believe that I care about what’s going on in their personal lives, they’re never going to care that I’m trying to get us to have a gaming design program or a project-based learning engineering program.”

Making sure all students have “a seat at the table” goes a long way toward shaping successful academic programming.

“I have dedicated my career in higher ed to really looking at student outcomes and to designing programs that meet the needs of underserved populations,” he said. “I’m always pushing the envelope to help me and my colleagues think of how can we open the doors wider for more people to come through.” 

Balancing his dual role as academic leader and second-in-command to President Edward Inch, Hood said he sometimes can be tugged in different directions.

“As Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs, my role is to ensure the integrity of the academic core of the institution and to ensure that we’re offering relevant academic programs that meet the needs of the region, the state, the nation, and the world.”

His goal as Academic VP is to assure students are equipped to secure meaningful employment in their field and contribute to society in a meaningful way.

“As Provost, I’m the Number 2 in charge of ensuring that this enterprise, the university as a whole, operates as efficiently and succinctly as possible across all divisions. In absence of the President, the responsibilities fall on my shoulders, which means I have to take a more global look,” he added.

Often that means stepping beyond Academic Affairs and assuring that all aspects of university life work together.

“I have to make sure that all of those divisions are coming together to complement each other, to ensure that we accomplish the goals set forth by the institution,” he explained.

Hood added he is confident in meeting the goals of his office largely due to a work ethic that grew from his youth.

‘I’m gonna outwork you.’

Dr. David Hood

“People who meet me say, ‘you’re brilliant, you’re so smart.’ I don’t see it,” Hood said. “I see myself as someone who is going to work harder and longer than any other person. I’m gonna outwork you.”

A “proud product of the great state of Alabama,” Hood grew up in a small town 45 miles west of Tuscaloosa. His mother worked at the local bank. His father worked the overnight shift at the local factory, was a mortician in the family-owned funeral home, and farmed part-time.  

“All he knew was work, work, work, work, work. So, I get a lot of my work ethic from watching him work really, really hard to provide for our family,” Hood said about his father. 

Hard work and the importance of education were ingrained into Hood’s ethos. 

“Both my parents went to college. They didn’t have degrees, but they knew the value of education and instilled that value in me.” 

In high school, Hood said he was an average student. His high school math teacher, Eddie Jaynes, saw something more.

“He knew that I worked really, really hard and he saw that I had a work ethic and the potential to be more than what my letter grade may have dictated,” Hood said. “And so for me, he took the opportunity to really see the totality and the sum of who I was as an individual.” 

What Jaynes saw was a musical prowess Hood displayed as a trumpet player. He sold his $2500 Bach Stradivarius trumpet to Hood’s family for $300. Hood used the trumpet to earn a full-ride music scholarship to Alabama A&M University.

Hood said the benefit of such a caring teaching philosophy has stuck with him over the years. He realizes it’s easy to teach students who grasp things quickly. True teaching skill involves seeing and making meaningful connections.

‘A good faculty member has to work really hard to make connections and to get those students who struggle with concepts to bring them from point A to the point where they’ve mastered a topic.’

Dr. David Hood

“A good faculty member has to work really hard to make connections to bring those students who struggle with concepts from Point A to the point where they’ve mastered a topic,” Hood explained. “And so, for me to have a teacher who didn’t give up on me and who actually went the extra mile to invest in me, that was the key that provided the foundation to get me to where I am today.”  

Entering college as a computer science major, he soon realized that “me and machines, we didn’t really have a lot in common.”

Working with people was more his style.  

“I switched my major to secondary education in my second semester and I never looked back.”

Earning his undergraduate teaching degree in history and biology from Alabama A&M, Hood started his teaching career.

Another pivotal person in Hood’s life was Dr. W. Franklin Evans, an Alabama A&M professor who took Hood “under his wing.” Through one of Evans’s contacts, Hood was able to land his first teaching job.  

“Because I had that meaningful connection and he was able to basically say, ‘this is a good person, you should look at him.’ It gave me entry into an amazing first-year teaching opportunity,” Hood said. 

His science and history teaching position at Davis Hills Middle School in Huntsville, Ala., wasn’t a “cakewalk.” 

“It was a tough school, but a school where the work was meaningful,” he recalled.

At the time Hood joined the faculty, the school was on the state’s watch list for underperforming on standardized tests. Students were lacking support in families where parents were working two jobs just to make ends meet.

Hood and fellow faculty at the school sought to change the culture of learning.  

“We really dedicated ourselves to doing everything we had to do to get students to where we needed them to be. So we had some amazing action plans where we worked diligently with students on Saturdays,” Hood said.

Community leaders and different community organizations pitched in to help create a Saturday curriculum to help the students close the gaps in their learning.  

“Parents got behind it and we were able to turn around our school’s performance by going the extra mile,” Hood said. “We didn’t get paid for it. It was just what we had to do to change the lives of these students.”  

‘Someone saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself.’

Dr. David Hood

In the meantime, Evans took a position at Tennessee State University and kept encouraging Hood to pursue his master’s degree. One day, Hood received a letter from Tennessee State stating he’d been accepted into the graduate program. Evans had completed the application for Hood and enrolled him in the Masters in School Administration program.

“At that point, it was time for me to put up or shut up. I would have continued to procrastinate. Someone saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself.”

He moved from teaching seventh and eighth-grade history and science to assistant principal at Brentwood Middle School and then to elementary school principal at Crocket Elementary both in Brentwood, Tenn.

“I made the strategic decision to leave K12 and transition to higher education as an assistant professor at Elizabeth City State University.” 

There he was the coordinator for the Masters of School Administration program at a small, historically black university in Elizabeth City, N.C. The model program trained educators within poor, rural North Carolina school districts to be principals. 

“It was an amazing opportunity to be able to work with educators who had the desire and the thirst to become a leader within their school.”

From there, Dr. Hood rose through the ranks as Associate Dean, and Dean. He subsequently became Associate Provost at Montclair State University before beginning his Provost and Academic Vice President duties at Minnesota State Mankato last July.  

‘You have to always demonstrate that you’re willing to change and to grow, and that you’re really dedicating yourself to this experience called ‘college.’’ 

Dr. David Hood

Throughout his professional life, maintaining belief in oneself, a strong work ethic and making meaningful connections are the pillars Hood sustains and imparts to students and his academic community.

“No matter how amazing and how bright you are as a student—or if you struggle as a student—you have to have a work ethic that causes people to take note,” Hood said. “You have to always demonstrate that you’re willing to change and to grow and that you’re really dedicating yourself to this experience called ‘college.’” 

Part of that student effort is engaging with faculty. 

“They should make faculty take note of them and their passions,” he added.

Collegiate professionals working in areas of diversity are pivotal in helping often underserved students learn soft skills for engaging faculty and becoming their own advocates.

“I don’t think students innately understand how to navigate those very powerful relations–relational dynamics–that exist between the faculty member and the student,” Hood said. “People who have those meaningful connections with students will dig deeper to pull out those nuggets that they see in those students and help to further develop them.”

 In his own professional career, Hood recalls times when his office was a “refuge” for students.

“Because I was such an open person, I would have students who knew they could come to my office just to decompress,” he said. “They really didn’t need to talk to me about anything. I’m sitting at my desk trying to get some work done and there’d be five students sitting in my office, headphones on, just totally relaxing.”

Now as he leads the University’s academic affairs division, the method for meaningful connections has changed, but not the intent.

“It becomes a little bit more difficult for me to do as a Provost” Hood explained. “But I see my role now as constantly reminding the Deans, department chairs, and faculty about these meaningful types of opportunities that our students need to have.”

‘I would just remind students to get engaged. To really feel comfortable and owning their space to challenge faculty members–not challenging the faculty member’s authority–but challenge faculty members to leave it all on the table. Drain them for every ounce of intellectual knowledge that they have.’

Dr. David Hood

He also engages students with a new series of monthly “Coffee With The Provost” sessions where Hood sits down with students to hear and address their questions and concerns.

The sessions are part of Hood’s ongoing advice to students: take ownership of your education.

“I would just remind students to get engaged. To really feel comfortable and owning their space to challenge faculty members–not challenging the faculty member’s authority–but challenge faculty members to leave it all on the table. Drain them for every ounce of intellectual knowledge that they have. Demand it of them that they pour everything out into you so that at the end of the year, at the end of the semester, they’re empty.”

For faculty, it means being more innovative.

“What does that mean? That means that they have to be prepared. They have to be inquisitive. And they have to be brave to explore the unknown. And not be afraid to go into unknown territories and to feel like they’re vulnerable,” Hood said. “Because when you become vulnerable, that’s when you have the most opportunity to actually create new and to learn.”

Dr. David Hood reaching beyond one’s comfort zone–whether it’s students, faculty or the global university–fulfills the University’s vision for “Big Ideas. Real-world thinking.”

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