Enterprising grad revisits rewarding path to 'I made that!'

Published 07.22.2021

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After leaving naval service with $200, a used car and a bag of clothes, Larry A. Ward found things he clearly loved to do.An entrepreneurial alumnus – a titan of the packaging industry who generously endowed the Larry A. Ward Machining Technologies Center at Pennsylvania College of Technology – returned to campus Wednesday to share his insight and inspiration during a pair of afternoon presentations in College Avenue Labs.

Ward passionately spoke to 17 high school teachers and counselors attending Teacher Externship Camp, a National Science Foundation-funded activity that provides participants with a real-world view of the advanced manufacturing field. He also met with young men and women in the Thingamajig Fabricators pre-college program, co-sponsored by the Nuts, Bolts and Thingamajig Foundation and PMMI, which introduces students to the breadth of manufacturing from brainstorming an idea to selling an end product.

"Don't get stagnant. Keep learning and improving," the WTI alum said, imploring his audience to evolve with the times and technology.While his audiences varied, his theme – the importance of lifelong learning and hard work amid rapid technological advancement – did not.

“You have to be willing to be prepared for just about anything,” Ward said, recapping an illustrious career that included service as a Navy diver and building three successful companies from the ground up. “And you have to be willing to change.”

Bradley M. Webb, dean of engineering technologies, introduces Ward to the visiting secondary teachers and counselors.Repeatedly singing the praises of his alma mater, and touting the enthusiasm and talent of its students and graduates, he said he has built on his foundational education in every job he’s performed.

“Penn College teaches you to work with your hands and your brain,” noted Ward, who has frequently called upon the institution's faculty when looking for electrical technicians who can operate and repair his machines.

“Penn College teaches students to do this wide array of skills,” he added, urging teachers and counselors to “bring the students here; bring the parents here.”

Michael J. Funicelli, a chemistry teacher from Tyrone Area High School, listens intently to the discussion.Asked during a question-and-answer session, "What might a student look like who would be successful in manufacturing?" Ward encouraged educators to expose curious students to a variety of career opportunities.

"Looking at a machinist or welder, you can see the product they turn out. If they understand what they are doing and are excited about it, then they need to consider Penn College," he said. "If they are interested in what they do ... if they like it, they will be good at it. That’s what’s great about Penn College: They can start in one course and transfer those skills to another."

Engaging ninth- through 12th-grade students later in the day, Ward – whose own career outlook was admittedly more nebulous than his classmates' until he discovered Williamsport Technical Institute – found a receptive audience among the "undecideds" in the room.

“There are more things out there than you can think of, and you don’t have to stick with just what you select," he said, adding that a diploma from Penn College will provide an underlying framework on which to construct a rich and satisfying life.

"Thingamajig" campers enjoy their conversation with the entrepreneur, joined by Howard W. Troup, instructor of automated manufacturing/machine tool technology (far left) and Webb (rear center)."The degree is not going to make a living for you, but will open a lot of doors for you," he said. "Once your door is open, then you have to do your job. The better you are at doing your job, the more successful you will be.”

Despite being a Navy veteran, Ward said he "missed the boat" in failing to adequately listen and learn the basics as a teenager. What students learn today will differ greatly 25 years from now, he said, but knowing the fundamentals will enable their adaptation to newer technologies.

His parting advice, born of sweat equity and business acumen: “The great thing about America is there’s nothing holding you back except yourself. You have limitless opportunities to do what you want to do. You may have to do some work to figure out what you want to do, but you can do anything.”