Stony Brook University hosted a memorial service for the late David L. Ferguson, a former Distinguished Service Professor of Technology and Society, on Wednesday, Oct. 2.
Ferguson, who was found dead on July 12 after suffering from a heart attack, was a university faculty member for 37 years. He was 69 years old.
The memorial, held in the Center for Leadership and Service, brought together a crowd of around 180 people to celebrate Ferguson’s life.
“For every person’s death, there are actually two moments of death,” Fotis Sotiropoulus, Dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences, said during the memorial. “The first is the biological death, the moment where the consciousness is no more, and the second is the moment of the permanent death, when the last person on the planet that remembers that person actually dies biologically. I think it is abundantly clear from the passion, the tears, the stories…because of the thousands and thousands of students that Dave’s career has impacted, the moment of Dave’s permanent death is way in the future.”
Ferguson directed Stony Brook’s Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching, committed to promoting the values of teaching excellence, from 1998 to 2002. He also served as the Department of Technology and Society’s Chair from 2002-2017. Beginning in 2012, he acted as the Associate Provost for Diversity and Inclusion until the time of his death, where he led efforts regarding the university’s Diversity Plan, particularly in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).
This position eventually led him to, among other things, help establish SUNY Korea and its department of Technology and Society. Ferguson is also a recipient of the 1997 United States Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring for mentoring individuals in groups underrepresented in STEM.
A memorial scholarship was created in Ferguson’s name by the University. It will be received by a student from a demographic who is underrepresented in the major of Technology and Society in the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
Ferguson’s older sister, Kathern Harris, spoke about her brother and his impact on their family. She talked about his good nature as a young boy, his achievement as the first African American valedictorian in his Neelyville, Missouri high school, and his commitment as a student, educator, and mentor.
“It did not matter whether you were from a large school, a large town, a wealthy background or poor background,” Harris said. “If you have the commitment and the dedication and the push from family you can make it, and David made it because he was determined–he was beautiful on the inside.”
Among those in attendance who spoke were Interim President Michael Bernstein and former President Samuel Stanley Jr. They recognized the contribution of Ferguson to the university in their words.
“His impact was and is remarkable, it will endure literally forever,” Bernstein said. “The outreach programs that Dave created and led helped over 10,000 students in our count, realize their dreams in graduating with STEM degrees and have successful careers on the basis of those degrees.”
Included in a number of professors and peers who spoke was former Chair of Science and Technology and retired Distinguished Professor Thomas Liao, who was a longtime friend and colleague of Ferguson. Liao brought Ferguson to the university in 1981.
“I think one thing that we should put in Dave’s legacy is that he was one of the founding fathers of the Department of Technology and Society, even though [it] came five years later,” Liao said.
Sotiropoulus reminisced on Ferguson’s accomplishments in his college. Back in 2016, Sotiropoulus established the Millionaire Club research award, a distinction granted to honor those like Ferguson who have been successful in drafting grant proposals for the college. That night, Ferguson posthumously received the award, which was presented to his nephew Kevin Harris, for the fourth consecutive year.
Students impacted by Ferguson’s mentorship also spoke at the memorial. Nina Maung-Gaona, Associate Vice President for Research at SBU, knew Ferguson for 19 years. Maung-Gaona reminisced about the mentorship Ferguson gave her when she was a student at Stony Brook; she recalled their inside jokes, Ferguson’s advice and their work on the STEM Smart programs, which pushed diversity in STEM fields.
“He was someone that you can share your hopes and your dreams and your insecurities, and he just always made everything okay,” she said. “If I had a good day, I called Dave. If I had a bad day, I called Dave. If I had a question or something I just wanted to think about I called Dave, he was just always there.”
SUNY Korea student, Daniel Kim, was a doctoral student under Ferguson. He explained how Ferguson made an impact on his life as both a mentor and friend. Kim invited other students mentored by Ferguson up on stage with him to honor the professor by celebrating the lives he impacted. Kim shared that before Ferguson died, he set him up with an advisor who was as wise as Ferguson was. Little did either know Ferguson would pass away that following summer.
Kim said Ferguson was a key motivator behind his decision to become a teacher.
“Dave was a kind friend and mentor in my life and supported me in every way possible,” Kim said. “Having a biweekly meeting with Dave gave me a great comfort and taught me how to be a good teacher and mentor for students. He showed me an exemplary model of how to become a professor and researcher. He was an angel, a saint, who loved people and cared about people…every student in our department found his love and support.”
Ahmed Belazi, alumni and now Director of Planning and Staff Development in the Division of Student Affairs at SBU, was taught by Ferguson when he was a student at Stony Brook University.
Ferguson’s impact on his university experience is “almost unspeakable,” Belazi said.
“I think Dr. Ferguson’s greatest impact on the university was as a role model to so many kinds of models, as a faculty member, as a researcher, as a teacher as an advisor and as a mentor,” Belazi said. “I think the greatest impact he’s made is showing people how to do all of those things really really well and make people’s lives, students lives, peers lives, community members lives better in so many seeable and unseeable ways.”