Once a football player, professor to step on field again as commencement flag bearer

Dr. David Batts, associate professor in the East Carolina University Department of Technology Systems, will have the honor Friday of leading nearly 500 graduates from the College of Engineering and Technology onto the Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium turf for commencement.

Dr. David Batts, left, speaks with a student during the Department of Technology Systems Coining Celebration last week. (Photo by Ken Buday)

Batts was selected to be the college’s flag bearer for the ceremony that is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. Though Batts has been a part of the college’s faculty for 20 years, his time at ECU dates to the early 1990s when he was a student and preferred walk-on football player.

His playing days ended when he tore a knee ligament in the fall of 1992, but his efforts in the classroom never stopped.

“I was an outstanding senior in the design program when I graduated, and I was runner-up for outstanding senior at ECU,” said Batts, who got his degree in 1995.

With his Bachelor of Science in design in hand, Batts decided he wasn’t done with his education.

“I really liked school, so they had the occupational safety master’s program, so I went straight into that,” said Batts, who grew up in Raleigh.

While working toward his master’s degree, Batts started a job in what was then called the Center for Applied Technology at ECU. He eventually became its interim director and then obtained his Doctor of Education in educational leadership.

“I was asked to apply for a teaching position here, so I did that and actually got hired before I finished my doctorate, and that was in 2003 when I started,” Batts said.

He now teaches industrial supervision and has been the program director for the Bachelor of Science in Industrial Technology (BSIT) transfer program since 2005.

The program, which caters to community college students with Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degrees in a technical field, gives older students and those with established jobs the opportunity to obtain four-year degrees that can provide boosts to their careers.

Though it started small, the BSIT program now has eight concentrations and caters to about 600 students. The program received the national John R. Bourne Award for outstanding online program from the Online Learning Consortium (OLC) in 2019.

“I think it’s just a big team effort,” Batts said. “There’s a lot of work done by Amy Frank and me, but without the colleagues from the various other degrees and graduate degrees, we wouldn’t really have a program. All it really needed was somebody to be a really strong advocate for the program.”

Dr. David Batts, center, accepts the the John R. Bourne Award for ECU’s Bachelor of Science in Industrial Technology program in 2019. (Contributed photo)

That advocacy included fighting for AAS degrees to be recognized for transfer credit.

“At that time, the AAS was called a terminal degree because you would go to a community college, get that degree and go off into the workforce, and when you went to a four-year institution, you would have to start completely over,” Batts said.

Batts’ efforts are all designed to support students. 

“I like to help students,” he said. “Helping them reach their goals is really important to me.”

He tells students to learn from their mistakes, providing examples from his own career, and tells them to be an advocate for themselves.

“I always tell them to stay humble and driven,” Batts said. “You have to have a good work ethic and stay humble, build good relationships and keep those relationships the way they need to go. But you always have to look out for yourself and make sure you’re doing the things to put your best light forward.”

He said seeing students succeed after graduation is the reason he teaches.

“You see the students, and they’re young and full of energy and then you watch their careers,” Batts said. “It’s an amazing thing to go back and look at a student who was in your class five years ago and see how well they’re doing. It’s always great to hear back from them when they tell you the stuff they learned in your class has really applied to their work life. It’s just a really rewarding experience being a teacher.”

Batts continues to work for the BSIT program and its students. He serves on a university committee designed to address barriers for transfer students.

Batts takes pride in what ECU provides to students. He was an ECU Centennial Award for Excellence recipient in 2018 and a James R. Talton Jr. Leadership Award nominee in 2020. He received the outstanding advisor award from the Phi Sigma Pi national honor fraternity, and was inducted into the ECU College of Education’s Educators Hall of Fame in 2018. He regularly attends ECU football and baseball games.

“It’s that Pirate pride that’s in us,” Batts said. “It’s almost like we walk around with a chip on our shoulders, and we’re trying to prove to everyone that we belong. That’s not just athletics, but with our degree programs.

“If you look at our college, you have four great departments and we really make an impact not only in eastern North Carolina, but all across the state of North Carolina. With the BSIT, it stretches to all across the U.S. and beyond. We’re making an impact across the state, and it’s showing that ECU cares about the students and cares about developing the next engineers and the next technologists who are making a difference.”

In essence, Batts has come full circle, as he’ll be on Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium’s turf once again, this time representing the College of Engineering and Technology during Friday’s commencement.

“I had no idea 28 years ago, when I was walking on to Dowdy-Ficklen’s grass, that one day I would lead my college and its graduates to their university graduation,” Batts said. “It’s a humbling experience.”

Dr. David Batts is shown with some of the BSIT Fall 2022 graduates during the College of Engineering and Technology Graduate Recognition Ceremony in Minges Coliseum. (Photo by Ken Buday)