To speak with Don Adams is to open a book into half a century of the University’s history.

To speak with Don Adams is to open a book into the Drake experience and understand how it has been formed by campus leadership, students, faculty, and staff over time. This academic year marks Don’s 50th year at Drake. He came to fill the newly created role of vice president of student life in 1969, at a time when college campuses, like other parts of the nation, were boiling with unrest and violence. Don’s steady hand led the University through that time and beyond. He connected with students and empowered them to be leaders and advocated for the student voice in shaping Drake University.

Four Takeaways

Be confident. In his interview for the vice president job, the Board of Trustees asked Don what he would do in a certain situation. Don’s first deferential answer was to work with the University president and his staff. The Board countered, no, what would you do? In what would become a defining moment, Don made up his mind to lay out what he would do, which gained him a vote of confidence. (And the job.)

Surround yourself with supporters. When Don considered leaving his doctoral program and not finishing his dissertation, his wife, Carol, said, “Don, you are going to finish this and I am going to help you.” Don and Carol continue to be a team and Don would go on to hire people who he learned from, collaborate with students, and lead with a team of committed administrators, faculty, and staff.

Be a good listener. Then respond and respond authentically.

Apologize. You will make mistakes and you don’t have to be right 100% of the time.


Donald V. Adams served as vice president of student life at Drake University from 1969 to 2007. In 1985 the title vice president for enrollment management was added, and in 1995, Don became the executive assistant to the President. Don retired in 2007 after 37 years at Drake and continues to be involved with the University in his retirement. The Donald V. Adams Leadership Institute that bears his name was formed in 2000. It is supported by alumni who are passionate about continuing Don’s legacy of leadership for students into the future.

Have a memory to share or want to wish Don congratulations on his 50 years of service to Drake? Send an email to