Darren Dawson is in listen and learn mode with an eye toward strategic development at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.
Dawson became UAH president on June 21 following the retirement of Robert Altenkirch, who held the post nearly eight years. Dawson’s nomination received unanimous board approval in April. Before taking on the new role, he was dean of engineering at Kansas State University, where he oversaw record enrollment and fundraising growth at that campus.
The job opportunity attracted Dawson because of UAH’s “great strides for such a young university.” He and wife, Kim, also have family in the Montgomery area, and she was born in Alabama.
“One of the factors that caught my attention immediately when I decided to pursue the job as president of UAH was the positive momentum that already existed with regard to new construction and the growing enrollment,” he said. “I am optimistic that we will be able to build on that momentum in the coming years.”
He said he believes UAH will continue to advance as a leading public university that is internationally recognized for degree programs that offer a high return on tuition investment, basic and applied research centers of excellence, and strategic corporate engagement, while at the same time, instilling in its students the values of integrity, excellence, innovation and respect.
“One of the strengths that I have discovered about the campus is the comprehensive degree program structure at the undergraduate level. You combine that solid foundation of academic programs with the highly successful basic and applied research programs in areas associated with defense, aerospace, and space science, and you have a strong core of fundamental strengths for a comprehensive research university,” Dawson said. “But there is more. Add the element that UAH has research partnerships with more than 75 corporations, and you have an outstanding model that is meeting the needs of Redstone Arsenal and Cummings Research Park.”
While UAH has a number of strengths, Dawson said there is no reason that the university shouldn’t be able to make improvements in various areas, such as enhancing the information technology infrastructure. He said he believes the school should also continue to upgrade the core academic facilities and increase the number of academic advisers to continue to improve the six-year graduation rate.
Known for building partnerships with public- and private-sector entities throughout his career, Dawson won’t be rushing changes.
“I am simply trying to learn as much as I can about the UAH culture,” he said of his plans. “We have set up meetings with the faculty and staff during the next six months to learn more about the university. We will also be setting up opportunities to meet with external stakeholders such as corporate partners, alumni and community advocates.
“I think the next step will be to engage the campus with regard to developing a new 10-year strategic plan that delineates future vision and goals of the institution.”
Dawson has taken in a lot during his first couple of months, and said he’s looking forward to guiding UAH’s future.
Dawson, who earned degrees in electrical engineering from Georgia Tech, spent five years at Kansas State. Prior to that, he was at Clemson University 24 years in positions of ascending responsibility from graduate coordinator to chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. During his time as department chair, research expenditures and Ph.D. enrollment more than doubled and undergraduate enrollment increased by 160 percent.
Dawson’s extensive research background includes emphasis on controls and robotics with more than $20 million in grant and contract awards. He also has industry experience with Westinghouse at the Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory.