Ralph Ford was appointed the 23rd President of the IEEE Foundation by the Foundation’s Board of Directors and began his term on 1 January 2022. Ford brings us, and our community, more than 25 years of leadership experience in higher education and industry.
He serves as Chancellor of Pennsylvania State University Erie, The Behrend College, was a Fulbright Scholar to the Czech Republic in 2005, and is the author of more than 40 publications, including the book Design for Electrical and Computer Engineers (McGraw Hill). He joined IEEE as a student member in 1987, eager for access to IEEE’s publications and scientific materials, and has worn many IEEE hats over the past 35 years. He joined IEEE Foundation’s Board of Directors in 2017 and had a central role in the Foundation’s first fundraising campaign, which raised more than 30 million dollars.
When asked how he became interested in engineering, he talked about taking apart and rebuilding Schwinn banana seat bicycles as a kid in the 1970s, and how that interest has been a running theme in both his professional and personal life. He still enjoys road cycling today, as well as mountain climbing and other endurance sports, which he says “unwind his mind” and help give him insight into whatever problems he’s working on professionally.
When asked which recent IEEE program achievements funded by the Foundation resonated with him, Ford said he could go “on and on.” He cited the IEEE Power & Energy Society Scholarship Plus Initiative, which, in 2021 alone, provided scholarships to 72 undergraduates across the US, Canada and Puerto Rico who are specifically interested in power and energy engineering careers. He also spoke about the IEEE Smart Village Program, which brings electricity, education and economic development to energy-deprived communities around the world. He underscored how much Smart Village’s progress means to him and his wife, Melanie Ford (also an IEEE member, with a degree in Computer Science), as they donate to the program personally. Ford also mentioned the IEEE History Center, which dedicated 14 milestones last year, IEEE-Eta Kappa Nu, which nurtured 270+ students in 20 different countries via a 4-day student leadership conference, and the IEEE Awards Program, which recognized Jacob Ziv with the 2021 IEEE Medal of Honor for fundamental contributions to information theory and data compression technology. Ford emphasized that none of this work could have been done without the support of Foundation donors.
President Ford’s Vision for the Future
When asked about his vision for the future of the IEEE Foundation, Ford answered, “My vision is the vision of the board and all who support us.” He said that he stands on the shoulders of those who have done a tremendous amount of work before him, citing former President John R. Treichler and the successful comprehensive campaign that he oversaw. His aim for the Foundation is to be a good steward of those funds, as well as future donations, by managing them in a way that prioritizes intent and impact. He also mentioned his focus on raising the visibility of the Foundation, in the eyes of the general public, as well as through outreach to IEEE and its leadership. He is excited to work with donors to continue to explore how philanthropy can help realize IEEE visions. Ford discussed his goals and vision for the IEEE Foundation during a Fireside Chat earlier this year, watch it on demand at vimeo.com/676041384.