A longtime professor retired on Aug. 31 after serving 42 years as a UTD faculty member.
David Ford aided in UTD’s growth by aiding in accreditation and development of an undergraduate and graduate program within JSOM.
His experiences before his career contribute to the way Ford approaches his occupational goals, as well as the way he interacts with others. Between 1959 and 1962, Ford attended a segregated high school in Fort Worth and graduated at the top of his class. He said moving from a segregated high school to an integrated college was a culture shock for him, as well as other students who attended Iowa State.
“One of the things I was a very good beneficiary of was college preparation. I had some excellent teachers at my high school and I thought I was very well prepared for college. I just had to kind of get used to the environment,” he said.
Ford has one particularly vivid memory of his freshman orientation. He got there early and sat in the front row of a large auditorium that he said sat about 1,000 students.
“A professor came in and looked around and he looked at me and saw me sitting there and saw some of his early statements were, ‘Welcome. Glad you’re here, but I got some bad news for most of you, and that is a lot of you won’t graduate from Iowa State with an engineering degree,’ and when he said that, he was looking dead at me and then he said, ‘You’re probably going to be among those who won’t be getting a degree,’” Ford said.
He said this moment lit a fire under him and motivated him to succeed during college. Although he struggled to adjust during his first semester, he improved his academic performance and was accepted into an honor society.
When Ford came to UTD he said he was always impressed by how motivated his students were and how easy it was to start up a discussion with them during lecture. With commuters primarily populating UTD, the majority of Ford’s students were individuals who came from their day jobs to take classes at night.
“They were all highly motivated. Unlike the undergraduates I taught at Purdue, few, if any, had any work experience. All of them had work experience here … I think it made for much livelier and richer classroom environment,” he said.
Ford said recent events in Charlottesville are painful for him to see, but basic human decency and dignity always wins the day if it’s allowed to.
“Like I said, I give people the benefit of the doubt and try and encourage my students to do the same,” he said.
One common practice Ford uses in his classes is group projects, with the hope of allowing his students the opportunity to interact and work closely with individuals who may be from different backgrounds. He also hopes his students will learn to understand and appreciate cultural differences.
“The reality is that if you go out in the workplace and you want to be successful, you’re going to meet people, many of whom are different from you and you’ve got to be comfortable in your own skin and interacting with them and being engaged and so forth,” Ford said.
Ford said in the professional and business organizations he’s been a part of, he has always been the first or only person of color. He has used this, instead, to help better those who will follow him.
Upon his retirement, Ford received a letter from one of his former students, Angie Chen Button, District 112 State Representative. It read:
“I want you to know that I really appreciate your kindness when I needed it the most as a poor and lonely foreign student back in 1980. Some people are very special. You are the one who will stay in my heart forever.”
Ford said this is proof that when students, both foreign and domestic, are shown kindness, it does stick with them.
“It’s very heartwarming and I’ve had a hand in that happening for some people. It’s very gratifying,” he said.