Fred Wood was being driven through the center of the University of Minnesota, Crookston, campus when three young women approached -- on horseback.
"Oh, this is home," he remembers thinking. "I have found home."
Wood is set to become the next chancellor of the rural campus in northwest Minnesota in July. He is leaving the agriculture-focused University of California, Davis, his turf since 1978, when he started as a transfer student.
After graduating from UC Davis with a chemistry degree, he earned a Ph.D. in inorganic chemistry there, taught elsewhere for two years, then returned. A series of positions led him to his current job as vice chancellor of student affairs.
But before he could be called a lifer, he got a call from Minnesota. Crookston, in fact, the city in which his mother was born.
There are other Minnesota connections, too. The oldest of his three children studied at Carleton College in Northfield, and his youngest is now a junior at nearby St. Olaf College.
Wood's parents never attended college. But his father, a carpenter, always encouraged him to work "with your brain, and not with your back," Wood said by phone Wednesday.
So he feels great responsibility for fellow first-generation college students, of which Crookston has many -- 44 percent of freshmen in fall 2011.
Wood also wants to strengthen Crookston's ties with colleges in the area, he said. UC Davis had such a strong partnership with Sacramento City College that when leaders decided to expand the campus, they built a permanent, 20,000-square-foot home for the two-year school.
"To my knowledge, it is the first and only relationship just like this with a community college," he said.
Wood is looking forward to Crookston's small-college feel. UC Davis has more than 32,000 students, while Crookston enrolls about 1,600.
"I would like to get to know them and be close to them," he said, "so they feel 'I know the chancellor.'"
Jenna Ross • 612-673-7168