Aerospace innovator David Elrod returns home to lead College of Engineering
For the last 37 years, David Elrod ('77) has had his mind on things above … way above … as a leader and innovator in aerospace technology.
Now Elrod is focusing on things a little closer to home. Elrod began his newest mission as dean of Lipscomb University’s Raymond B. Jones College of Engineering in August 2018.
Elrod is an engineer who has invested the majority of his career with Jacobs Technology, a global provider of technical, professional and scientific services, including engineering, architecture, construction, operations and maintenance across the aerospace and defense markets.
In his various roles at Jacobs, Elrod has led thousands of employees, secured billions of dollars in contracts and managed nationally critical test operations.
He has managed design activities related to wind tunnels, hypersonic propulsion test units, space chambers and related electrical and control systems; has interfaced with the United States Air Force, NASA and commercial and international aerospace customers to assess and define future test and technology needs; has led operation and sustainment of the world’s largest complex of flight simulation test facilities; and been capture manager for multiple major pursuits of multi-billion-dollar contracts supporting the USAF and National Nuclear Security Administration among numerous other responsibilities.
“Dr. Elrod has an enthusiastic heart for Lipscomb University and is committed to continuing the positive trajectory of the Raymond B. Jones College of Engineering,” said Provost Craig Bledsoe. “He connects Lipscomb with the engineering community in a significant way that will benefit our students and this program. We are fortunate to have someone with his experience, knowledge and connections to lead the College of Engineering.”
During his tenure at Jacobs Technology, Elrod served as deputy director of the Technology and Development Facility at the Arnold Engineering Development Complex (AEDC); deputy general manager of the AEDC group; vice president, Jacobs Technology, and general manager, Aerospace Testing Alliance, AEDC Group; regional vice president for business development; and most recently as division vice president of business development and technical fellow.
Prior to his work at Jacobs Technology, Elrod began his career at Calspan/AEDC as senior lead engineer and research project engineer. From 1989-1995, Elrod was manager of Calspan/AEDC’s Space Technology Department and of its Scene Generator Test Capability, Project Management Office.
It’s about relationships
Why is Elrod stepping away from a distinguished career in engineering to head into the frontier of higher education at Lipscomb?
“In one word, it is relationships,” says Elrod, a 1977 Lipscomb graduate. “Relationships of family, faculty, students, and lifelong friends. I grew up in a family that had been enriched over four generations by Lipscomb.”
Elrod’s Lipscomb lineage includes his grandfather Lacy Elrod who was on the faculty over a century ago; Bob Kerce, his father-in-law and a math faculty member for more than 50 years; his sister Dawn Whitelaw, who taught art classes for 25 years; his wife, Linda, who recently joined the School of Physician Assistant Studies faculty; and his son, John a graduate of the engineering program who recently married a graduate of the marriage and family therapy program.
“I realized looking at the photo of my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary gathering, that every single individual in that multigenerational family photo was a Lipscomb graduate,” he says. “Over the years, my wife, Linda, and I have also had the privilege of hosting a number of Lipscomb engineering students while they worked as interns in our community—some for a few months, others for a year or two. Each of those individuals blessed our family and through them I heard countless stories of Lipscomb experiences—from the classroom and from engineering mission trips."
“I grew up in a family that had been enriched over four generations by Lipscomb.” — Dean David Elrod
“I saw firsthand the impact this school and the engineering program was having on lives—and have seen how the Peugeot Center for Engineering Service to Developing Communities has expanded those opportunities even further,” he continued.
And, he says Justin Myrick, former engineering dean, along with a number of faculty “reached out with encouragement, persistence and prayer in a way that compelled me to join them in this amazing program.”
Elrod said preparing the next generation of engineers is important and he is grateful for the opportunity to lead Lipscomb’s program.
“Engineers—whether mechanical, civil, electrical or whatever the discipline—are problem solvers,” he says. “In our world of ever increasing complexity, problem solvers are essential. I see the work of Lipscomb’s program as ensuring future engineers are grounded with a faith-based value system and the ability to engage in complex issues with civility and respect—bringing solutions that matter in a world replete with challenges.
“While it would be wholly fulfilling for graduates of this program to devote their lives to engineering challenges, it would be even greater for them to bring their problem-solving skills, faith and civil engagement to a broader spectrum of our world’s challenges. That is why this opportunity is important to me,” he said.
Lipscomb is in Elrod’s DNA
With Lipscomb being in Elrod’s DNA, leading the Raymond B. Jones College of Engineering gives him a feeling of “coming home” although the campus and university have changed in the years since he was a student.
“There is a spiritual facet in that the foundation of faith that was reinforced in my family is still evident in faculty and staff here. There are memories tied to sites across campus, of the calculus classroom where my future father-in-law discretely identified to my wife the stranger that had called asking her out on our first date; and of the shortage of parking spots that existed even back then; of familiar paths to be walked; and best of all of familiar faces of folks I have known over the years,” he recalls fondly.
Those faces are among the ones who laid a foundation that sent Elrod on a trajectory to a successful career in engineering and in other aspects of life.
“At Lipscomb, I was able to not only be exposed to the subject matter being taught, but also to see the lives that were led by many of the teachers,” he says. “Dr. Ralph Nance and Dr. Bob Kerce were both great teachers, but I came to see their friendships (and those of their families) demonstrate a joy of life and hearts of service that left lasting impressions.”
“In the Bible department, Dr. Harvey Floyd exemplified scholarship while Dr. (Batsell Barrett) Baxter built relationships—each modeling a facet of the Christian walk. Dr. Cynthia Dilgard challenged me to write more effectively and Earl Lavender’s parents led mission efforts which I participated in over three summers, as they mentored students with love and determination that demonstrated faith through everyday actions and changed lives,” he recalls.
“It was so good to see how a common faith could be expressed through those diverse individuals and I look forward to continuing to learn from the even more diverse generation that has followed in their footsteps.”
“The foundation of faith that was reinforced in my family is still evident in faculty and staff here.” — Dean David Elrod
The path ahead for the engineering college
Building trust with key audiences is a first-step goal for Elrod at the College of Engineering, he said.
“My desire is one of building trust—trust with employers who hire graduates of this program, trust with students who invest their time and resources in this program, trust with communities whose lives our graduates touch and trust with faculty and staff that as a team, we are serving well,” says Elrod.
“Having led an organization that hired hundreds of engineers over the years, I saw that while technical knowledge was absolutely essential, it was not sufficient for one to really excel. To excel, one needed not only the knowledge, but also the character traits and ability to work with others that Lipscomb has always developed in its students. I want to sustain and reinforce the trust placed in Lipscomb to do just that.”
Elrod is quick to note the importance of the strong foundation that he will be building on as dean.
“I truly appreciate the great work done by the current faculty and staff, but also the foundation laid by Myrick, Fred Gilliam, Fort Gwinn, Greg Nordstrom and all those who have shaped the program over the years. Without their dedication, this program and opportunity would never have existed.”
Elrod holds a Bachelor of Science degree in physics from Lipscomb University, a Master of Science in engineering management from the University of Tennessee Space Institute and a Ph.D. in industrial and systems engineering and engineering management from the University of Alabama, Huntsville. He has published numerous articles and papers.
Elrod is past chairman of the American Institute of Aeronautics & Astronautics Technical Committee on Management, serves as president of the Hospice of the Highland Rim Foundation and has served as a board member of the UTSI Space Institute Research Corporation. In addition, he serves as an elder at Forest Mill Church of Christ in Manchester, Tennessee.
Want to know more? Visit engineering.lipscomb.edu.
By Kim Chaudoin