A photo hangs in Don Pope-Davis‘ office as a reminder of a lucky encounter with a world leader and his inspirational words about bringing people together for change.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu was at the same conference where the now-dean of the College of Education and Human Ecology was participating. The Nobel Peace Prize winner told the group “I know why you are here. … you are here to do great things and to make a difference in the world.”
Tutu’s words echoed within the dean throughout the conference. As the dean prepared to leave, Tutu made a comment about his “two-names” and he took a photo with him.
“It was a life moment that was simultaneously humbling and uplifting,” said Pope-Davis. The experience continues to be a daily point of reflection.”
“I say to myself what have I done today, to transform the lives of people around me, whether it’s through deed or action?” he said. “This is a standard I hold for all the members of our college as we journey to something bigger than ourselves.” Working for the greater good and fostering unity have driven Pope-Davis’ priorities during his tenure at EHE.
“Dean Pope-Davis has had a profound impact on EHE,” said Nicole Luthy, chief of staff and director of strategic operations for the college. “Not only has he helped elevate the prestige and profile of the college, but he has also harnessed the expert knowledge and creativity of our faculty, staff and students to bring about lasting change.”
Pope-Davis began his tenure in 2018 with listening and walking tours to gain insight and help with shaping his leadership.
“I wanted to show up and listen to the priorities of faculty, staff and students to inform next steps.”
Steps he didn’t take alone. He assembled a team of central leaders to shape a shared vision.
“Together, we developed a new strategic orientation, widely agreed upon goals and high-impact initiatives for achieving them,” Pope-Davis said.
A set of core values was established — excellence, justice, diversity, innovation and internationalization. To advance this distinctive vision, the college developed a set of five pillars.
“The core values and pillars are foundational to EHE — who we are and what we strive to be. By focusing on them, we enrich the education of our students and accelerate the efforts of faculty and staff. Our local, national and international communities are transformed through our unique partnerships and experiences for our students,” he said.
Research funding and innovation
In the past five years, the growth in scholarly activity and external sources spanned all departments. The Dean’s Big Idea Research Innovation Grants have proven a powerful driver of this development. More than $1.5M has been invested in funding through this initiative. Following the first awards in 2020, the second round of “Big Idea” grants, with an initial investment of $1 million dollars that provided $100,000 to each recipient for up to two years. Of which, $500K came from university research support.
The aim was community focused: to support innovative strategies that increased healthy living opportunities for children, adults and families.
“It was a bold initiative that invested big in faculty,” said Natasha Slesnick, EHE Distinguished Professor and associate dean for Research. “The grants supported faculty to achieve results not attainable by the funding available through smaller grant initiatives – it’s been a massively successful endeavor.”
Pope-Davis also invested in graduate students, funding the Graduate Student Interdisciplinary Research Initiative (GSIRI). It offers graduate students an opportunity to collaborate in interdisciplinary research.
“The chief mission of this program is to enhance collaboration, creation and contribution amongst diverse graduate students’ burgeoning expertise to address the pressing educational issues that exist in our society,” Slesnick said.
Earlier in 2023, Pope-Davis extended student research support further by establishing the Dean’s Undergraduate Research Initiative. The initiative offers undergraduate students an opportunity to engage in an active, ongoing research project under the supervision of a faculty member.
“This immersive experience can open future career interests, strengthen graduate school applications and provide an important foundation for graduate school. In turn, EHE faculty are paired with bright students who are motivated to do research to assist them in advancing their research goals,” Slesnick said.
Impactful recruitment of top scholars
The college also raised the bar for recruiting and hiring faculty of color. These trailblazing efforts have led to increased awareness of the college and university on a national level, particularly on issues of inclusive excellence. To achieve this diversity, that is critical to driving college excellence, each hiring committee ramped up efforts to consider a broad selection of candidates.
In 2019, Pope-Davis led the charge. The result: an increase in faculty of color from 22 percent to 26.7. To date, faculty of color represents 34.7% overall and 41.6% among clinical faculty of color.
“Human Sciences has enjoyed a historic period of growth of diversity of faculty and staff,” said Erik Porfeli. “It’s common for many leaders to call for diversity. It’s another level of person that has the ability to comprise and lead in a greatly intentional and effective way.”
“Dean Pope-Davis’ leadership makes EHE truly special in this space.”
- Overall college ranking in education: 27 out of 274 (top 9.9%)
- Ranking among public universities: 19
- Ranking among Big Ten institutions: 6 out of 14
- Ranking among graduate education schools in Ohio: 1
- In the Department of Human Sciences, Kinesiology PhD ranked No. 1 in the United States by the National Academy of Kinesiology, adjusted by size of faculty, The Master of Science in Sports Management is No. 7 in the United States, No. 9 in the world and No. 1 among Big Ten by SportBusiness.
The college more than doubled the number of nationally ranked graduate education specialty programs, increasing from three in the 2023 rankings to seven for 2024.
The college also doubled the number of graduate education specialty programs recognized as being among the top 10 such programs in the nation, from three in the 2023 rankings to six for 2024.
With 272 similar programs ranked this year, the college is in the top 9.2%.
Pope-Davis also supported the creation of five new degree programs, 10 new certificate programs, four new minors and one new endorsement program.
During Pope-Davis’ tenure, three endowed professorships were added across all areas of the college.
They are the Nina Mae Mattus Endowed Professor in Fashion and Retail Studies, Department of Human Sciences; the Mary Fried Endowed Clinical Assistant Professor, Department of Teaching and Learning; and the Daniel Tanner Foundation Endowed Professorship in Curriculum Studies — Adolescence and Democracy, Department of Educational Studies.
Pope-Davis expanded the Office of Equity, Diversity and Global Engagement to provide strong infrastructure to support the college’s commitment to cultivating an academic community with global awareness and engagement.
Now a team of nine, led by Senior Associate Dean Noelle Arnold develops programming for the college, works to create local and global partnerships and supports a host of student-centered initiatives.
The program engages with people from different cultures and experiences to gain new perspectives that enhance EHE’s global reach and local impact. It expands the college’s cross-cultural competence by cultivating deeper scholarly and service partnerships at home and abroad.
Through its Global Hub the college communicates and facilitates international opportunities to the EHE community. More specifically, the purpose is to inform EHE students, faculty, and staff about global engagement opportunities, inspire participation in those opportunities, and provide direction to resources that lead to meaningful experiences and professional development.
“Throughout his EHE career, Dean Pope-Davis has deepened the college’s connection with the community,” Arnold said. “Under his leadership, the college has gone beyond simply espousing values. He has created the conditions for us to put our values to work with intentional action.”
“Our commitment to drive inclusive and community-engaged excellence is embedded in every facet of our college, and this has been crucial to bringing others on this journey,” she said.
Growing our own
Holistic, student-centered support and modeling diverse and equitable hiring practices have been Pope-Davis’ signatures. During his tenure, the college’s faculty and staff diversity has grown to 37.2% through hiring, endowed professorships and research investments.
At center of his leadership is the Dean’s Diversity Postdoctoral Fellows Program, which focuses on assembling scholars whose interests align with the college’s research and academic needs. The program employs a cohort approach — key to creating representation and fostering belonging.
Since starting the fellowship in 2019, the college has welcomed 14 postdoctoral researchers for two-year appointments — and yielded five tenure-track faculty for the college.
Ye Shen joined the college as a fellow in the 2022 cohort.
“The well-crafted postdoctoral fellowship program allowed me to pursue my independent scholarship, as well as engage in teaching and service,” Shen said.
Shen emphasized the value this lends to her collaboration efforts across different departments and colleges.
“This is an important step to leverage my interdisciplinary research. The support I have received has also played a pivotal role in advancing my independent research – enabling me to submit several organizational and federal grants because of the support of the EHE Office of Research and Innovation, my mentors and the (college’s) Crane Center for Early Childhood Research.”
Tuba Gezer appreciates the connectivity she has experienced as a fellow.
“Right from the outset, my fellow postdocs and mentors have consistently reinforced that I’m not navigating this journey in isolation,” said Gezer. “They’ve lent attentive ears, offered valuable advice and facilitated numerous professional development workshops — our program excels in its mission to meticulously prepare us for future roles at The Ohio State University and beyond.”
For Leslie K. Morrow being a part of the college reaffirms her dreams.
Morrow’s research and praxis as a Black, queer academic explore the lived experiences, labor and strategies of resistance of historically marginalized, disenfranchised and under-resourced groups, especially Black queer and trans folks in higher education.
“Dean Pope-Davis has built a leadership team that includes a variety of people, especially Black women. To see this as a rising scholar provides me the space to dream and believe that I deserve to be in academia,” she said.
The program is also the only one of its kind offered to recent graduates in the textiles, clothing, fashion and retail field.
“This intentionally designed career-opportunity has been the perfect mixture of challenging and cultivating,” said Cydni Robertson. “I’ve never seen such eager support, excellence in advising and dedication to my professional development as a newer scholar.”
“Because of this postdoctoral program, I was able to take baby steps into the faculty and staff lifestyle, rather than having to jump headfirst into a tenure-track position before I was truly ready.”
Keeley Pratt, associate professor and co-director of Couple and Family Therapy MS and PhD Programs, serves as program coordinator.
“I have been honored to work alongside the postdocs as they take the next important steps to develop their skills to prepare for future careers,” said Pratt. “If the latest cohort is any indication of the direction the larger fields of education, health and wellness are moving, the future is very, very bright.”
Teaching, learning and student success
Pope-Davis also redesigned leadership and support for teacher education. Reach of EHE’s teacher education program spans 46 Ohio counties, 119 public school districts, 492 public schools, and engages 1,100 mentor teachers.
The college processes more than 2,200 preservice teacher placements annually, resulting in over 350,000 hours of support for K-12 education through classroom experiences, student teaching and internships.
“Of the countless examples of Dean Pope-Davis’ leadership at EHE, one of his greatest achievements is his ability to shepherd an entire community of staff, faculty and alumni to first understand and then live the EHE values and mission each day — and he has structured an operation able to accomplish far beyond the limits of other institutions,” said Antoinette Miranda, Casto Professor for Interprofessional Education, chair and professor, Department of Teaching and Learning.
During the past five years, the college has benefitted from the support of impactful philanthropic gifts. Thanks to the generosity of our alumni and friends, our programs have advanced in excellence, and our legacy is secured for years to come.
Under Pope-Davis’ leadership, the college tackled student debt through several new scholarship funds: The Weiler Teacher Preparation Fund, the Cameron Mitchell Gift, the Dale E. and Bernice E. Mansperger Endowment Fund, and the Dr. Stacy Woodford, Sr. Education Drivers.
Over $6 million dollars in student scholarships have been awarded over the past five years.
“What begins here at EHE is indeed playing a part in changing the world. We invite everyone to be a part of this community and join us in celebrating the investments made by our generous alumni and friends. Every single gift has played an integral role in EHE’s success.” Dean Don Pope-Davis.
Alumni and community partnerships
There are now over 100,000 alumni across the globe who got their start at the college — with many maintaining an active role in programs that support the college.
“As president of the EHE Alumni Society, I have appreciated Dean Pope-Davis’ collaborative engagement with us, and his ongoing support for our diversity, equity and inclusion-focused change,” said Cathy Sankey, ’75 BS, president of the college’s Alumni Society.
“To have a dean who models positive leadership and truly cares about working with students, alumni and the community is special. We are all better having Dean Pope-Davis as our leader.”
Facilities update to support expansion
Another aspect of the growth of the college is modernizing its facilities. Dean Pope-Davis was instrumental in securing an additional $60M in state-funded support for the renovation of Campbell Hall.
The project is currently underway to create state-of-the-art space to support research, enhance teaching, and foster creativity, innovation and collaboration for faculty and students. In the process, EHE seeks to reduce its footprint on campus.
“We want to provide flexible learning and research spaces that function well for diverse needs, while making way for us to join with more partners to solve complex human problems. To do this, we need modernized wet labs, dry labs, spaces to interview people, a teaching kitchen and more,” said Pope-Davis.
“The project will be transformative,” Pope-Davis. “A reflection of the values the college embodies.”
Shaping the landscape of higher education
Adding to his effort to drive change across the education landscape, Pope-Davis has become a leading figure in determining the shape of higher education across the globe. He was elected president of the Council of Academic Deans from Research Education Institutions.
The 140+ members assembly of deans of education from research and land-grant institutions throughout North America, create plans, policies and programs to help member institutions effectively prepare graduates.
“The affiliation with the council is an important part of the college’s efforts to make transformative change across the education landscape,” Pope-Davis said. “We focus on ways of reaching equitable access to high-quality education through effective educational partnerships.”
The dean also was recently included in Education Week’s 2023 annual RHSU Edu-Scholar Public Influence Rankings. Joining the ranks at No.168 among 200 scholars on the list, that are recognized as doing the most in the last year to shape education practice and policy in the United States.
Looking to the future
“Going forward, I see great opportunities to expand distance learning graduate programs at the college and continue to increase course offerings,” Pope-Davis said. “EHE will continue to unite academic, professional and community partners by creating a holistic community composed of physical and virtual contexts for transformative impact.”
Beyond the tangible ways that Dean Pope-Davis has impacted students, programming, faculty and staff, a greater outcome exists. He knows the greatest good comes when we all make a difference.
For “Two-Names,” Archbishop Tutu summed up his hope for the college quite well: “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”