David Elrod

Dr. David Elrod joins the board of Ascend after 39-year career in aerospace and defense.

Photo Courtesy of Lipscomb University

The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) alumnus, Dr. David Elrod, has been tapped to join the board of directors of Ascend Federal Credit Union. Based in Tullahoma, Ascend is the largest credit union in Middle Tennessee, boasting 26 branches, 213,000 members and more than $2.87 billion in assets.

Dr. Elrod earned his doctorate in Industrial and Systems Engineering and Engineering Management from UAH. In his 39-year professional career with the aerospace and defense industry, he has managed technology development, design and operation of wind tunnels, hypersonic propulsion test units, space chambers and related aerospace test infrastructure.

Becoming a board member with a federal credit union is not as unconventional a role for this lifelong engineer as might be imagined. He has served both on the board and as president of the Hospice of the Highland Rim Foundation, Inc., an organization in Tullahoma that helps hospice patients suffering end-of-life hardships. He also served as chair of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics’ (AIAA) Technical Committee on Management, as a shepherd in a local church and as a board member for the University of Tennessee Space Institute Research Corporation (UTSIRC) in Tullahoma.

“I’d had some exposure to other board positions for several years,” Dr. Elrod explains. “Through a combination of corporation experience, organizational structures and 501(c)(3) experiences, I became interested in working with Ascend.”

The long-time Manchester, Tennessee, resident brings extensive leadership and organizational experience to his new role. He was a vice president of Jacobs Technology of Tullahoma and general manager of the Aerospace Testing Alliance, a joint venture that operated and maintained the world’s largest collection of aerospace ground test facilities for the USAF. He also acted as deputy director of the Technology and Development Facility at the Arnold Engineering Development Complex (AEDC) at Arnold Air Force Base.

“In my career in aerospace and defense-related things, I’d been involved with corporate structures, setting up new joint ventures, new organizations, working with Jacobs and supporting NASA, the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy,” he says.

His Ascend responsibilities include, “monthly engagement with other Ascend Board Members and the credit union’s leadership team to ensure that Ascend is efficiently and effectively serving its members, as well as serving as Secretary for the Board,” Dr. Elrod says.

Asked what originally attracted him to working in the engineering and aerospace field, he points to a natural bent for exploration and providing solutions to complex challenges.

“I always enjoyed solving problems and always had a curiosity about how things worked, and how to try and create new systems and devices from whatever was available at the time. Aerospace is always a fascinating field, the challenges of human space flight and the multidisciplinary technologies that go into it.”

He chose UAH thanks to connections with mentors at UTSI who lauded UAH’s engineering programs. “Several of the faculty there transitioned to the UAH Engineering Management program, Drs. Jerry Westbrook, Don Tippett and Dawn Utley in particular,” he says. “I had a lot of respect for those individuals, based on their expertise and ability to share practical insights in leadership and systems engineering issues.”

Interestingly, Dr. Elrod’s experience with UAH had much in common with today’s students who have transitioned to online learning during the response to COVID-19, as he earned his doctorate through a farseeing program offered by UAH in Remote Learning.

“The UAH Distance Learning Program was really well-constructed,” he notes. “This was in the early to mid-90s. I had a very full corporate schedule, and it was the only way I could have gone through the studies. Email was available, but there was nothing like Zoom, no way to really access materials online. Many of the classes were done by videotape that was sent out. Distance Learning also allowed for a number of meetings in person, but it was especially good for someone that traveled a lot. It was such a good program.”

Dr. Elrod notes that his time with UAH has reaped rewards that stand with him to this day.

“I really appreciated taking classes from professors whose daytime job was at Marshall or Redstone. They were practitioners of the material fulltime and came into the classroom to share their expertise and practices. It was really helpful and impactful to be able to have teachers that had currency and practical experience in teaching those subjects.”

Besides working with Ascend, Dr. Elrod has plenty of additional duties that fill his busy calendar since leaving the aerospace industry. In 2018, he was approached to fill the post of Dean of the College of Engineering at Lipscomb University in Nashville, a natural fit for a Tennessee native with a yen for helping students find their niche in life.

“Over my aerospace career, my wife, Linda, and I have had the privilege of hosting a number of engineering students in our home while they worked as interns in our community—some for a few months, others for a year or two. We saw what outstanding young folks they were, how they traveled overseas to share their engineering skills and impact lives in ways that changed mortality rates, such as providing clean water, for example, or in providing the ability to receive healthcare by supporting healthcare facilities.”

Despite all his accomplishments, Dr. Elrod continues to look forward, seeking new horizons to explore and new things to learn, especially new ways to help those in need.

“Every new role brings its own learning opportunities and challenges,” he says. “But I’d say the fundamental truths of how you work from a position of integrity and how you deal with people with respect and seeking to understand and be understood—those fundamental things all apply. And I appreciate the lessons I’ve learned from a position of faith about always trying to treat folks right.”



Dr. David Elrod

Russ Nelson