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Dr. Roger Hughes

Passing into a new era

Doane University coming into the 2021-22 school year is a very different place from the college that Dr. Roger Hughes graduated from 40 years ago. But in some ways, it’s very much the same. Merrill still chimes the hours. Faculty and administrators remain invested in mentoring and advocating for students. And students are still coming to Doane’s physical — and online — campuses with hopes and dreams for the future.

As the university’s 13th president, Dr. Hughes wants to encourage and grow those traits.

“We’re excited to be back,” he said, of himself and his wife Laura. Their relocation to Nebraska from Florida not only realizes Dr. Hughes’ goal of becoming president of Doane, but brings them closer to their family, many of whom are also Tiger graduates, including their daughter, Maddison ’18.

LIVING THE DREAM

Dr. Hughes had first applied to be president in 2011. He was interviewed and brought to Crete, but at the time, Dr. Jacque Carter was seen as the better fit, having had more experience with university administration. But, if one door closes, another one opens. And if you put in work, have patience, and keep a goal (or several) in mind, it can really pay off.

“I think all those experiences certainly made me a much better candidate this time than I was 10 years ago,” Dr. Hughes said.

To start, the past decade at Stetson University presented him with the opportunity to work beyond the traditional role of a head football coach in order to relaunch a football team after a 56-year absence and then make it thrive. There’s a lot to do and a lot of people to work with if you want to add 135 students to a university. Stetson’s president and athletic director treated him almost like a vice president, Dr. Hughes said, which allowed him to ask questions and take actions that resulted in long-term change.

“As a head coach, you get to help people. The same thing translates when you get to be the president.”

“As a head coach, you get to help people. The same thing translates when you get to be the president,” Dr. Hughes said. “You can really have an influence on how people are treated and the culture of an organization. You can really help multitudes of people. As corny as it sounds, I like helping people.”

It was that goal, that drive to help others, that pushed Dr. Hughes along the path to coaching football. He had completed his master’s and doctorate from the University of Nebraska- Lincoln, and faced a fork in the road — to follow an invitation to Chicago to research exercise science or start applying for open coaching positions. After being on the staff of Tom Osborne’s football program, he hoped to be able to positively impact young lives through mentorship, support and advocacy. He coached at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, Dartmouth, Princeton, and Stetson, always with thoughts of Doane at the back of his mind.

WHAT MAKES DOANE UNIVERSITY

Something that Dr. Hughes cherished about Doane during his time as a student and after was the mentors, the faculty and coaches, who pushed him to grow, and later advocated for him as a graduate.

He came to Doane from Crawford High School on a basketball scholarship and wanted to be a basketball coach after graduation. But he knew being able to coach football would likely open doors for him at larger schools. The head coach at the time, Joe Glenn, let him on the staff of Doane’s football team, and he stayed on staff through graduation even under two other head coaches, Nathan Hinkle in 1980 and Brian Naber in 1981 and ’82.

Dr. Dick Dudley had him sit on the accreditation board for Dana College. And while “sit” could mean just that on other campuses for students brought on to observe the accreditation process, Dudley had him writing reports.

“They gave me experiences that I could not have gotten at a public school,” Dr. Hughes said. “Everywhere along my career, there’s been a Doane connection that hasn’t been just a mentor. They’ve been an advocate.”

When his daughter started at Doane in 2014, he was delighted to see that the relationships between students and faculty were just as close as he remembered, with faculty, deans, staff, and administration all committed to ensuring student success.

"It’s clear that people have a passion to be at Doane and they have a passion for what they do at Doane.”

“It’s clear that people have a passion to be at Doane and they have a passion for what they do at Doane,” Dr. Hughes said. “And more importantly, they have a passion to help their students get better.”

WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS

There’s no getting around the fact that smaller colleges and universities are facing challenges now, and in the coming years, said Dr. Hughes. But what sets Doane apart is the university’s ability to meet the changing needs of higher education while still providing students with the skills embedded in a liberal arts education — communication, critical thinking, and a hunger to improve oneself and the world around us.

“The economy is changing. So we need to do things differently to train our students for what future employers want,” he said. “We’ve got to have our students prepared for that.”

It’s a difficult time to start as a university president. Even as vaccination rates grow and cases decrease, safety will still need to be a priority with COVID-19 on all three campuses, and as trips to elsewhere in the country and world are planned. There have also been a number of initiatives, programs, fundraisers, and projects started during Dr. Jacque Carter’s term that are unfinished.

In short — there’s a lot to learn and a lot to talk about.

“You’ll hear me say a lot of ‘I don’t know about that, tell me about it,’” Dr. Hughes said, as he continues his first year as president. He hopes that with open communication, all parts of the Doane community will work together and move forward.

In good news, the university is in a good position financially, and a lot of that is due to Dr. Carter’s work over the past decade.

“Doane also has all the components to become an even better university with three campuses, a strong online presence, passionate alumni, and dedicated staff and faculty,” Dr. Hughes said. It has a strong reputation for making sure students receive the education they need in four years and at a cost that’s competitive with regional universities.

“If we continue to do the little things very well, and if we continue to try to help people get better and better themselves, we’re going to have a major impact on the world.”