"Stand up and do what is right. You know in your heart what is right."
In 2017, Student Affairs began a journey to improve the lives of our staff employees by forming the Staff Enrichment Task Force. We didn’t know where this journey would take us and we didn’t know the friends and colleagues it would bring into our lives. One of them is Dr. John Ferris, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering, who is our 2019 faculty-staff recipient of the Aspire! Award for embracing Ut Prosim as a way of life.
Following a distinguished 15-year career in the automotive industry, John Ferris joined the engineering faculty at Virginia Tech in 2005. Dr. Ferris investigates improvements to ground vehicle system performance by studying their interactions with terrain surfaces. He has participated in dozens of sponsored research projects, publishing more than 30 peer reviewed journal papers and more than 40 conference papers. He is founder and director of the Vehicle Terrain Performance Laboratory, where he passes on his knowledge and enthusiasm to bright young minds.
Dr. Ferris was also 2018-19 President of the Virginia Tech Faculty Senate, where he advanced issues related to people and community -- specifically, pay, equity, and quality of life for Virginia Tech employees.
His nominator wrote, “After reading the Student Affairs Staff Task Force Report and upon discovering the immense inequities around pay and data relative to living wage and poverty levels in Montgomery Country and the surrounding area, he made employee compensation one of the top priorities of his tenure. To him, “THAT I MAY SERVE” meant leading the Faculty Senate to focus on and prioritize improving compensation for staff, particularly those in pay bands 1-3.”
Working with Robert Sebek, President of the Staff Senate, John used his time and influence with the Board of Visitors to advance these important issues and served on the Total Compensation Working Group to find ways to urge action. He was unwavering in his position that staff base pay should allow for a living wage, above the poverty threshold.
Following a unanimous vote of support by the Faculty Senate, the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors acted decisively, positively, and promptly to increase staff minimum starting pay to $12 per hour, beginning in July. They also provided a supplement of $500 to Virginia Tech’s lowest-paid employees -- money that can be used to offset expenses such as childcare or parking.
For Dr. Ferris, being a true ally for staff means that they should not have to rely solely on their own time and efforts to bring issues and solutions to the administration. He believes it is the responsibility of all university leaders to do so. Dr. Ferris is serving this institution and his fellow humans well. He is a true example of what it means to serve others.
Dr. Ferris sums up his philosophy this way: “Stand up and do what is right. You know in your heart what is right. Sometimes it’s tough to take the consequences, but in the long term, it is all that matters. Honor human beings and the time they spend serving your organization. We have been given gifts – we should repay them by making the world better.”