A fond farewell

Jun 27, 2005

President James E.A. John retires June 30 after 14 years.

In 1991, Kettering University was a different campus with a different name. A crumbling parking ramp dominated the horizon and rumors of peeling paint abounded. Former Trustee Ed Harris likes to call it the years when GMI "was still a school run by a factory."

Then began the 14-year tenure of President James E.A. John.

"The enhancement of the campus during Dr. John's presidency is a great tribute to his broad vision and outstanding skills," Harris said. "Early emphasis on recreation and housing facilities for students set the tone for his administration. With a staff focusing on fundraising and alumni development, and a faculty continuing to produce academic excellence, Dr. John truly created a balanced approach to governing."

Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs John Lorenz likened his arrival to a famous Charles Kettering quote: think more about the future than the past, because that's where you're going to spend the rest of your life. "It's apparent that Dr. John, like Charles Kettering, preferred to think about the future of the school rather than dwell on its past," Lorenz said. That's why Lorenz and others think President John's enduring legacy may be as "the building president" at Kettering University. Under his leadership, the campus has enjoyed:

. . . the construction of the new Recreation Center which is named in honor of him and his wife, Connie,
. . . the construction of the C.S. Mott Engineering and Science Center which houses the Chemistry and Mechanical Engineering programs,
. . . the construction of Campus Village Apartments which provide on-campus housing for upperclass students,
. . . new athletic playing fields,
. . . the McKeachie Pavilion for student activities,
. . . and the long-overdue air conditioning of the Residence Hall.


In addition, he supported:
. . . the establishment of Kettering's Center of Excellence in Fuel Cell Technology,
. . . the soon-to-be-completed automotive CRASH Lab,
. . . the Bosch Automotive Electronic Systems Laboratory,
. . . the Ford Design Simulation Studio,
. . . the PACE Lab. for e-design and e-manufacturing,
. . . and he has laid the groundwork for the establishment of a research park adjacent to campus.

Also, during his presidency:
. . . the number of both undergraduate and graduate degree programs increased,
. . . a curriculum reform effort was completed at both the undergraduate and graduate levels,
. . . international student exchange programs were established with six different countries,
. . . articulation agreements were established with community colleges,
. . . the number of companies employing Kettering co-op students was expanded to include more than 700 corporate sites,
. . . and the retention rates and graduation rates for both women and under-represented minorities increased.

"But, the most profound change for which Jim will be remembered," Lorenz said, "occurred on January 1, 1998, when the school changed its name from GMI Engineering & Management Institute to Kettering University. And, while most of the attention at the time was focused on the change from 'GMI' to 'Kettering,' I believe that history will prove that the change from 'Engineering & Management Institute' to 'University' will be far more significant," Lorenz concluded.


Chemistry Professor Reg Bell agrees. "Through his visionand decisive action, Dr. John first elevated and then tranformed what had been a small but special engineering and management institute into what is now a premier university with world-class facilities."

His vision was clear and determined, added Trustee Frank Perna '60. "He knew what had to be done and did it. The name change, the campus expansion and the positioning of the school in spite of the challenges of economy and location did not prevent these positive things to occur. Having meetings at his house with students, faculty and trustees were very constructive. Dr. John, in concert with his wife, made significant accomplishments that are now the foundation for Kettering's continuing success."

Dwight Tavada, director of the Office of Minority Affairs, said Dr. John's impact on issues of equity and diversity are invaluable. "By creating the Office of Minority Student Affairs, he gave minority students the moral and financial support needed for professional and career development. He made it possible for students of color to make a difference and develop their leadership abilities. A staunch supporter of AIM (Academically Interested Minorities) pre-college program, his leadership and advocacy for this office will surely have a lasting affect on Kettering's future."

His avid support of the Bioengineering and Crash Safety Programs needs to be noted, said Janet Berlin Fornari, associate professor of Mechanical Engineering. "Through his support and guidance in the construction of the Crash Safety Program, Dr. John was key in building the link between Kettering's heritage in automotive engineering and Kettering's future in the broader area of bioengineering."

And Trustee Tom Plaskett '66 felt Kettering has been blessed with his presence. "He has a passion for doing the right thing and maintains a commitment to persevere in spite of a Board of Trustees comprised almost entirely of chief executives and people who have strong views on almost every subject! He welcomes and encourages engagement of Trustees without limitation, and as a result, retires with a tremendous sense of accomplishment and confidence about Kettering's future success."

Written by Patricia Mroczek
(810) 762-9533