The Strength of Concrete, Steel and Listening

July 19, 2021

sharon wood provost q and a full

Former engineering dean Sharon Wood becomes UT’s chief academic officer.

Sharon Wood does not start her day with coffee; she gave up caffeine during her undergraduate days. Instead, she starts by running or cycling. This will not surprise anyone who knows the hardworking, early rising engineer who, on July 19, becomes UT’s No. 2, the executive vice president and provost. “I drink cold water,” she says.

Wood grew up in central New Jersey, with a father in construction. “When I was a little kid, he was working for a contractor who built industrial steel structures — and that’s how I got interested in structural engineering. When I was about 8, I got to walk around on the construction site and up in the beams, and I thought that engineering would be fun. During the recession in 1972, he started an asphalt paving company, and that’s where he spent most of his career. I did work for him the summer after my first year of college. The asphalt is 300 degrees below you, it’s hot above you, and it’s a demanding physical job. The experience convinced me to spend a lot of time studying!”

She is proud to be a fourth-generation civil engineer; her father, grandfather and great-grandfather were all in the trade. The fact that she is the first woman in that professional genealogy bestows a certain pioneer status on her, and having become a leader in a historically male-dominated field has not gone unnoticed.

By the way, her parents, both in their 80s, are still working. Her father is now a building inspector. “On all these local construction projects, he knows all the shortcuts, and he’s never afraid to call them out!” Wood’s brother is a CPA, and their mother works in his office.

An athlete from early on, as an undergraduate at the University of Virginia, she was on the rowing team, and yes, she is currently reading “The Boys in the Boat.” She also played bassoon in the orchestra. Look at her iTunes account today and you will see an eclectic music mix, with the last album played being “Joe Ely Live from the Cactus Cafe.” But get into her car and it’s NPR all the way. Her go-to meal is some kind of vegetable — broccoli, broccolini or spinach — some sort of tofu, and rice or potatoes.

We spoke in her 10th floor office at the Cockrell School of Engineering on June 30, a moving box here and there in her waning days as dean.

Read the Q&A »