A beloved member of the SENCER community died suddenly in July. Dave Ferguson had been a leader and supporter of Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities since it was first established by David Burns and Karen Oates at the Association of American Colleges and Universities in 2001. I recall Dave as a generous and engaged SENCER participant, particularly in aspects of the work that he was passionate about: mathematics education and supporting the academic success, especially in STEM, of underserved minority students.
Although I always appreciated Dave as a steady presence at SENCER Summer Institutes, one whose graciousness and enthusiasm made all interactions with him a pleasure, I only got to know him well as a colleague in 2015, when I succeeded David Burns as Executive Director of the National Center for Science and Civic Engagement (SENCER’s organizational home). At that time the NCSCE and its staff moved to Stony Brook University under the auspices of the Department of Technology and Society. Dave was Chair of Tech and Society and Associate Provost for Diversity and Inclusion, among other roles, but it was clear that he saw the development and advancement of NCSCE at Stony Brook as an integral part, not only of the overall mission of the department, but part of his personal mission of ensuring that all students have access to the high-quality STEM learning they will need to address the “grand challenges” we are all facing. Although in administrative hierarchy he was our supervisor, Dave respected our autonomy as a program and our expertise as staff members, while offering us support, guidance, and wholehearted commitment.
I can honestly say that working with Dave these last few years has been an inspiration and a joy, not least because you knew you could trust him completely to do what was right, even though it might be hard. He was a lifelong student at heart and still lit up with excitement at new ideas, new projects, and especially, the creativity and achievements of his students. At the 2019 SENCER Summer Institute, where he posthumously received the Wm. E. Bennett award, so many colleagues and friends noted that when you were working with Dave “you had his complete attention, and felt like you were the only person who mattered.” His ability to listen, understand, and fully engage with others partly explains why so many considered him their role model, mentor, and champion, and why he was widely respected on the campus he spent his entire career. The NCSCE gained immeasurably from our association with him, not only at Stony Brook, but in the national arena, as he opened up new avenues and audiences for NCSCE in engineering education and industry partnerships, all focused on “social good.”
Dave was a stubbornly modest individual who rarely talked about himself, and many of us were unaware of his lifetime of accomplishments and many honors and awards until we read his obituary. It is not an exaggeration to say, as many did in reflecting on his life, that he was “irreplaceable.” He left us too soon, but with a legacy of good works and achievements that we can only try to carry on.