Published: Tue Sep 6, 2005He began his career as a Tennessee Tech University agronomy student in 1958, and Donald Elkins will also see his career come to a close at the university when he retires as dean of the College of Agriculture and Human Ecology this month.
Wade Faw, director of agriculture, has been named to serve as interim dean until the position is filled on a permanent basis.
“If I leave a legacy, I hope it is to be remembered as a students’ dean,” Elkins said. “For many years now, my greatest rewards have nothing to do with personal achievements, but in watching the achievements of our students and celebrating their successes.
“I’ve always had an open-door policy and have tried to help students in any way I could to make their lives at the university better,” he continued.
His outlook mirrors the example set by the late Willis Huddleston, who was dean when Elkins was a TTU student and the person Elkins credits with keeping him enrolled in classes.
“There were a couple of times during my freshman year, I had my suitcase packed and was ready to just go home and work on the farm in Franklin County, but Dean Huddleston wouldn’t let me,” he said. “He made me promise to finish my first quarter, then my freshman year. He said he wouldn’t stop me after that, but by that time, I’d found my place.”
He continues to be inspired by Huddleston’s example, although Elkins says he can never live up to it. “They just don’t make them like him anymore, and there’s no way a guy like Don Elkins can fill the shoes of somebody like Willis Huddleston.”
After graduating from TTU in 1962, Elkins earned both his master’s degree and doctorate in agronomy from Auburn University in 1964 and 1967 respectively.
Later in 1967, he began what would become a 28-year career at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.
“I enjoyed my career there as an agronomy professor and researcher so much that I turned down some good opportunities at other universities. I had no intention of leaving Southern Illinois. I thought I would be there forever,” Elkins said.
Then in June 1994, he learned of the opening for TTU’s dean of Agriculture and Human Ecology. After some urging from friends and colleagues, Elkins decided to submit his application.
He started his new post on Oct. 1, 1995, but in August, as newly appointed dean, was invited to attend the dedication of the new Hyder-Burks Agricultural Pavilion.
“I felt honored to be invited to the dedication,” Elkins said. “It was such an impressive ceremony, and I remember thinking to myself at its conclusion that I had made a great decision by accepting this position.”
The job hasn’t come without its trials, however. Elkins said his greatest challenges were encountering such tight budget issues and reestablishing his reputation in a new setting, in spite of it being his alma mater.
“Although my greatest challenge is budget related, I underestimated how much effort it would take to establish myself and my reputation at a new place, with faculty and staff who were naturally a little skeptical of my motives,” he said.
“I believe they know by now, though, that what they see is what they get, and the rewards have always far exceeded the challenges,” Elkins continued.
Among his greatest rewards and accomplishments is having started a student ambassador program at both TTU and Southern Illinois University.
TTU’s AG/HEC Ambassador program allows outstanding agriculture or human ecology students to serve as recruiters of new students and public relations representatives for the college.
“Overall, it has been rewarding to come back to my alma mater, establish the ambassador program and do the best I could as dean,” he said. “I’ve certainly felt inadequate in that role in comparison to some of the great deans who came before me, but it’s mainly the wonderful, dedicated faculty and staff who make this college what it is today.”
Upon retirement, Elkins says he plans to spend more time visiting family, gardening, reading and attending athletic events, especially at TTU and Auburn.