This summer, Dr. Keith Elder, a professor and professional in the field of public health from Birmingham, Alabama, will succeed Debbie Norris as provost and executive vice president.
Elder currently serves as the program director for the Samford University School of Public Health, a program he founded four years ago in July 2016 to teach students how to “address health on a larger scale and view larger issues from a population perspective.” He completed his undergraduate and master’s degrees at the University of Alabama – Birmingham, and received his Ph.D. from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. His worldview is at once macroscopic and microscopic, focusing on bigger issues and the smaller individuals impacted in consequence.
He was born in Troy, Alabama the youngest of 17 children. He grew up in a single-parent home since the third grade, when his father died. Growing up mostly poor, Elder realized “education is the great equalizer,” and decided to pursue higher education as a way to improve himself and give back to his community. A desire to help individuals from similar backgrounds led him to study public health. “A common theme of my work,” said Elder, “is improving the health of groups and improving how they access their healthcare.” He’s done that for more than 16 years, researching and finding solutions for inconsistencies in the healthcare system and helping individuals from lower-income backgrounds live healthier lives through long-term care and easier access to medical attention.
But his worldview isn’t limited to the field of public health. Elder applies his focus on the big and little picture to student success. “I really enjoyed teaching and I really enjoyed helping students,” Elder recalled of the final days of his doctoral study, when he worked part-time as a graduate assistant teaching classes alongside his professors.
His professors noticed his love, too, and encouraged him to enter academia. Dr. Nancy Miller, his dissertation advisor, and Freeman Hrabowski, the president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, “have provided constant mentorship,” according to Elder, and helped make his decision easier.
Elder has taught at universities across the country since 2000. Motivated by his belief in the levelling power of education, Elder has, in turn, motivated his students to “realize their full potential” and equipped them to be their best selves in their personal and professional lives. “That’s what’s kept me in academia,” he said, explaining his love for receiving phone calls from former students and maintaining connections with them after the tassel has been turned.
That, in a nutshell, is what Elder hopes to do as provost and executive vice president at MC. He admired the mission statement’s dedication to academic and Christian excellence, and said, “The more I learned about MC, the more I saw myself as a fit.” He especially admires the opportunity for personal relationships between students and professors and hopes to use his experience to enhance that opportunity further.
“Today more than ever,” Elder said, “students and faculty need to know they’re connected to something more than themselves” — to be specific, community with each other and with God.
“The primary focus of a college is the students,” Elder said, “That’s what drives us, and that’s what drives me.”
(Photo Credits: MC Office of Public Relations)