Dr. Donald Mook began his longtime affiliation with Youngstown State University when he played linebacker for former football head coach and current university president Jim Tressel.
“I was a computer science major in undergrad,” he said. “Then, I started coaching middle school wrestling. I wasn’t headed toward the classroom, but I enjoyed working with kids. I didn’t know that about myself. Education is what I wanted to spend my life doing.”
After two degrees, two certifications and more than a decade of experience as a superintendent, Dr. Mook returned to his roots. His graduation from YSU’s hybrid Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) in Educational Leadership program in 2018 made him a five-time alumnus.
“That doesn’t happen very often,” said Dr. Mook of being in his 13th year as superintendent of Columbiana Exempted Village School District (Ohio).
“At the time, I thought, ‘What would set me apart from the next candidate beyond having superintendent experience?””
He concluded that adding a doctorate would qualify him for roles he wanted to pursue.
“Getting yourself to the interview is key,” he said. “Having the opportunity to talk to [potential employers] is difficult. You can never have enough credentials in your life to get that next job.”
Hatching a Career
Dr. Mook grew up in the Youngstown area. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in education in 1992 and then added a master’s degree in educational leadership and administration seven years later.
“I took a temporary position working in the General Motors finance department because I could do computer work,” he said. “Then, I got a call from the superintendent at Lisbon Schools. He got my name from YSU career services.”
Although it took some coaxing, Dr. Mook took the leap to pursue his true passion in the classroom. He taught for six years and served as a tech coordinator for David Anderson Junior/Senior High School.
“There weren’t a lot of computer teachers coming out of school at the time,” he said. “They got me signed up to teach and coach. A couple of years later, we won a state championship in football. ”
The courses involving law, taught by Dr. Chuck Vergon, were Dr. Mook’s favorites in the Ed.D. in Educational Leadership curriculum.
“In school administration, you want to try to stay out of court,” he said. “Law has always piqued my interest. You look at some of these cases, how they come about and why, and then some of the solutions and how schools react to them.
“I am a big fan of not reinventing the wheel. I also like to learn from someone else’s mistakes before I learn from my own. That knowledge helps educators out a lot.”
Even with his years of experience, the information Dr. Mook learned in the doctoral program was applicable to his leadership position.
“It’s great because you’re in class with teachers, principals and a couple of non-teachers on the health side,” he said. “My superintendent experience was helpful.”
No Time to Chill
Another reason Dr. Mook wanted to pursue a doctoral degree was to positively influence his kids. He and his wife, Debbie, have two daughters — Baylie (25) and Brittany (23).
“I want my children to learn that you’re never too old to learn something new,” he said. “I want to be an example to them moving forward with what they want to do with their lives.
“I set the pace for them, and I feel like they’re making good on it by getting their degrees and, hopefully, moving forward with their careers and taking on the attitude that you’re always continuing to learn something in life.”
After completing his doctoral degree, Dr. Mook, who enjoys fishing in his free time, also took up the guitar.
“I am about two-and-a-half years into learning to play,” he said. “It’s going to take two-and-a-half more years to get good at it.”
Though happy to continue building on the legacy he has established at Columbiana Exempted Village School District, Dr. Mook also has an eye on the future.
“I wouldn’t mind teaching at the college level,” he said. “You can retire from education after 35 years. How do you do that? You have to have the credentials. You have to give yourself options. This degree will give me those opportunities.”
Learn more about YSU’s online Ed.D. in Educational Leadership program.