Ralph Ford, director of the School of Engineering and associate dean for industry and external relations at Penn State Behrend, has been appointed interim chancellor of the college, effective July 1.
Ford will be the college’s chief academic and administrative officer. He assumes the top leadership post left open by the departure of Chancellor Don Birx, who in May was named president of Plymouth State University in New Hampshire.
“Dr. Ford brings leadership experience in a range of areas, including strategic planning, curriculum and program oversight, faculty and staff development and research and outreach initiatives,” said Madlyn Hanes, vice president for Commonwealth Campuses of Penn State. “I am confident he will provide the vision, energy and collaborative spirit to advance the college during this time of transition.”
A national search for a permanent chancellor will begin in late summer, Hanes said, with the goal of having a selection made in early 2016.
Ford joined Penn State Behrend in 1994. He has led the School of Engineering since 2005, creating new majors and research centers and increasing enrollment. The school has nearly 1,400 students and is consistently ranked among the nation’s best undergraduate engineering schools by U.S. News & World Report.
Since 2013, when he assumed additional duties as associate dean for industry and external relations, Ford has coordinated the college’s open-laboratory model of industry-academic collaboration, which matches students and faculty members with private-sector partners for experiential student learning, applied research and advanced product development. He oversees Knowledge Park, a 100-acre technology hub where 20 companies employ more than 500 people. He also has led development of the $16.5 million Advanced Manufacturing and Innovation Center, which in 2016 will add 60,000-square-feet of manufacturing, materials and prototyping labs, including the region’s first secure lab for government research.
Ford has been instrumental in securing more than $40 million in external funds and gifts for Penn State Behrend, including, in 2012, a first-of-its-kind gift from Autodesk, a top software developer, which made its full portfolio available to all students at the college.
In March, he partnered with colleagues in the college’s Black School of Business to launch a three-year, $750,000 initiative to spur business innovation and support entrepreneurs across the Erie region. That program, which is supported by the Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority and Mercyhurst University, aims to create an entrepreneurial network that unites academic, industry and economic development teams.
“We are stronger and far more effective when we work across disciplines and draw on diverse perspectives,” Ford said. “I am excited to continue the work of creating new academic, research and outreach collaborations that position our students for success.”
Ford holds bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees in electrical engineering, earned at Clarkson University and the University of Arizona, and was a Fulbright Scholar at Brno University of Technology in the Czech Republic. He is the former vice president of member and geographic activities for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the largest technical professional society in the world.