When he was a kid, Raymond Ballard (CHE, 4th year) wanted to be a veterinarian. When he was in his teens, he thought about becoming an airline pilot. But in high school, he met a physics teacher who changed all that.
“His name was Bill Ennis, and he was inspirational,” says Ballard, smiling. “He had a great career, including working in a particle accelerator lab at Fermilab. He gave it up to teach high school physics. He said if he could get 20 students to do what he had done, his impact on science would be 20 times greater.”
After several of Ennis’s graduates attended IIT and gave the university glowing reports, he began to suggest the university to his juniors and seniors. At least one has enrolled at IIT every year since. But Ballard’s path is somewhat unusual. His triumvirate of passions includes his major, chemical engineering; his minor, political science; and his avocation, community service. After graduation Ballard intends to return to his native Alaska to work in engineering and then enter law school, possibly at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law.
“There’s a lot of law involved in working with engineering companies,” Ballard says. “It’s important to understand the technical aspects of what they’re doing. There’s patent work, dealing with renewable energy, working with the oil and gas industries. They need so much legal work, and most lawyers don’t have a technical background. There are lots of opportunities.” Eventually, he hopes to meld his passions and enter politics.
Ballard’s commitment to community service stems from his many years in the Boy Scouts, where, at age 17, he became an Eagle Scout. It’s a rank attained by just 2 percent of all scouts, including such accomplished men as Neil Armstrong,Gerald Ford, and Bill Gates.
Following one of the Boy Scouts tenets of providing service to others, Ballard began working on roadside cleanup and canned-food drives at as early as age 11. “I helped churches construct things that would sustain them, like a storage shed,” he says, sounding matter of fact, as though it were something every sixth grader would do.
Scouting significantly impacted his life in more than one way. When he was 17, he and his troop went to a Scout Jamboree, an event that brings together 35,000 scouts from all over the world. It was extremely hot, and Ballard joined several adults in erecting a large tent in order to keep the scouts cool. As they lifted the tent, a pole struck a power line, killing four of the leaders. “It was terrifying,” Ballard says quietly. “Their kids were there. One of the leaders was the camp director, so just about every scout knew him. These men were all 150 percent committed to scouting, to making sure we were the best people we could possibly be. It was horrible.
“After that I told myself I would do everything possible to get everything out of life that I could.”
The following year Ballard became active in his high school’s student government and more involved with community organizations.
When he enrolled at IIT, he joined Union Board and was selected president last year. According to Erin Gray, director of student life, Ballard helped revitalize Scarlet Fever, a group within the Union Board that promotes athletic events on campus. He became a familiar figure, walking around campus with face paint to remind students of that evening’s game. “Ray is at the forefront of getting students involved in IIT and making it a better place,” says Gray. “He’s a good role model, and a good representative of the student body.”
Ballard laughs when he thinks about the face paint. “It’s not just about the fun and games,” he says. “At the end of the day, we know that our name is only as good as our institution. When we graduate, we need to make sure that every graduating student feels the same way and commits 110 percent to bettering the institution back home and bettering the name of IIT abroad.”
William Grimshaw, professor of political science, says Ballard’s dedication to developing campus life, in terms of encouraging students to become engaged and involved, is something faculty and administrators can’t do. “He has an extraordinary commitment to enriching campus life,” Grimshaw states. “It’s a daunting task to get IIT students away from their computers, and Ray has had to struggle. But he never lets it get him down.”
Ballard emphasizes that he’s still growing. One of the things he likes most about IIT is that rather than concentrating on learning facts and methods, he learns how to think. “Teachers aren’t as concerned with me getting everything 100 percent right; they’re trying to teach me to think like an engineer,” he says. He talks enthusiastically about the Interprofessional Projects (IPRO) program for the same reasons. For his course last year, his team of students studied the process model of a coal-fired power plant and recommended a solution that would effectively eliminate liquid waste.
“We learned how to research and analyze. We ultimately developed not just an effective design, but a financially feasible design,” he says. For Ballard, it was more than an academic requirement and a valuable exercise in teamwork. “With a group of 10 people, you encounter all kinds of personalities and situations, and you learn to deal with them. Some people weren’t committed to the project. Some were pretty domineering. There were varying levels of expertise. You have to learn how to work together.”
In addition to his IPRO project and engineering and political science coursework, Ballard has had other opportunities to hone his leadership skills at IIT—his latest as 2009–10 president of the Student Government Association (SGA). As SGA president, he wants to make it easier for students to share issues with the SGA, to promote what the organization has already accomplished, and to inform the student body about the SGA’s agenda. He says, however, that change is often slow in coming. “Student government is like real government. It takes a long time for change. And you’re never going to make everybody happy, but you have to keep trying and you have to keep the long-term in mind.”
And as he continues on his path, both at IIT and after graduation, Ballard says community service will always be a guiding force. He remembers a longtime scouting tenet: when you go into the wilderness, leave only footprints behind. “I always want to be in a place where I can connect with people,” he says. “And wherever I go, I want to leave it better than when I arrived.”
The IIT Office of Student Life offers more than 70 organizations for student involvement, including clubs based on nationality, religion, majors, and Greek life, in addition to common interests. The following is just a sample. Click here for the full list.
- 33rd Street Productions (drama)
- Beard and Mustache Club
- Chess Club
- IIT Tennis
- Illinois Tech Cycling
- Illinois Tech Robotics
- Japanese Film and Animation Society
- Medieval Society
- Rock Climbing
- Tech Runs Around Chicago
- TechTronics A Cappella
- The American Odyssey Travel Club
- Up ’Til Dawn (for childhood cancer)
- Water Environment Federation