In the early 1980s, Charles Backus was charged with a good portion of the responsibility for driving Arizona State University’s Engineering Excellence program — its primary directive was to up the quantity and quality of the engineering college’s research.
As the college’s associate dean for research at the time, Backus traveled to the nation’s capital to meet with leading funding agencies and research administrators to make them aware of the program’s aspirations.
When he told a manager at the Office of Naval Research he was looking for the best people to lead ASU’s effort, the manager had an immediate response: Hire David Ferry.
Ferry had been with the ONR from 1973 to 1977 before joining the electrical engineering faculty at Colorado State University. Backus lured him to ASU with the opportunity to play a big role in shaping the future of ASU’s ambitious engineering education and research endeavors.
“I guess he thought I could be a good leader or maybe inspire people,” Ferry says.
It turned out Backus had guessed right.