2 Albion grads are key leaders at RIT
Dr. Howard Ward and Jeremy Babcock work to ensure top-notch facilities, services for students
ROCHESTER – His spacious office in the Global Village at the Rochester Institute of Technology is a long way from his living conditions as a kid, when Howard Ward grew up without running water at a migrant labor camp on Baker Road.
Ward, who earned a doctorate in higher education, is an associate vice president at RIT. He has worked 39 years for colleges and universities.
At RIT, he oversees an $82 million annual budget, 208 employees and leads a team committed to impeccable facilities and service for students and staff. The Global Village is a $55 million student housing and retail complex.
Jeremy Babcock has known Ward for two decades. He spoke at Babcock’s Albion High School graduation in 1995. The two stayed in touch when Babcock worked in student services at Brockport State College. Babcock had the tough job of handling student discipline. He also helped manage construction projects.
He would often call Ward or have lunch with him, seeing him as a friend and sounding board.
Babcock, after 10 years at Brockport, joined Ward’s team at RIT on Feb. 20, 2012 – Babcock can recite the day. Babcock took a job as an assistant director of housing. On Nov. 1, Babcock was promoted to executive director of housing facilities following a grueling search and interview process.
“He’s skilled and talented,” Ward said about Babcock. “He’s well respected on campus. I look forward to his vision.”
Babcock, 39, oversees a staff of 24, the residential halls and 1,000 apartments. He deals with everything from keys, pest control, furniture, laundry facilities and many other issues.
Ward and Babcock have more in common than their high school alma mater. They have both overcome challenges, and they both left Albion after high school, attending small colleges about six hours away from home. Both wanted to push themselves, and see if they could make it on their own.
Ward, a 1972 Albion grad, grew up in the former Coloney Camp in Carlton. He lived there from when he was 2 until he graduated. It was one of the state’s largest farmworker labor camps, home to 60 African-American families.
Ward grew up in a loving home with loving neighbors. But his house resembled a shack. It was small, poorly insulated and field rats made a racket at night, scratching against the pasteboard outer walls, trying to get inside.
Ward was a star football player for Albion. He earned a scholarship at Mount Union College in Ohio. (In 1973, Coloney Camp was torn down and Ward’s family moved into a newly-built housing development, Carlton Manor, on Baker Road.)
He excelled as a lineman for the Mount Union football team, and was leading tackler in a senior all-star game among Ohio football players. Some NFL scouts were interested. But Ward, who was popular on campus with students, college professors and even the president, was urged to consider a career in college student services.
He took that advice and would work at Mount Union, Bowling Green, Ohio Northern University and RIT. He said he has been blessed. He hasn’t forgotten his Albion roots, and he has led diversity training for school staff, and worked with students on the college admissions process.
Babcock, the son of Jim and Linda Babcock, is an active member of the Albion Fire Department and a skilled golfer. He and Ward often play golf together, including at charity events. Babcock has a knack for hitting the ball straight, about 200 yards down the middle for his tee offs.
He does it all despite being born with birth defects in both arms. Babcock said his parents and friends always encouraged him as a kid. He played Little League baseball, basketball and used adaptive equipment made by his father to ride snowmobiles and be active in many other ways. Babcock these days drives the biggest fire trucks for the fire department.
“I’m really fortunate with what I can do,” Babcock said. “My family and friends always pushed me.”
He brings a knowledge of construction, and that helps at RIT when he reviews plans for buildings, housing units and other projects. Ward said Babcock also brings a sensitivity to using doors and buildings that many staff don’t consider in the design and construction of the space.
Babcock sees the big picture, working to do what’s best for the university and the students, Ward said.
“I like his tenacity,” he said.
Babcock was 18 when he ventured from Albion to attend college near Pittsburgh at the California University of Pennsylvania. He earned a degree in business in 1999, and then a master’s degree in business administration in 2001.
“I wanted to prove to myself that I could be on my own,” he said.
A similar path
Ward also needed that distance to become his own man. He said he was a “momma’s boy” in high school and had to fight homesickness in college. He was also one of the few black students at Mount Union.
He gained confidence and friends through football, good grades and a welcoming personality. He started his career as a residence hall director. He is now one of the key leaders at RIT. He said he enjoys empowering staff and students.
Babcock started his career as a resident director at Brockport, overseeing a residence hall with 200 students and a staff of six. He had to discipline students and have some expelled from school. Some of those students used the punishment as a wake-up call. They turned themselves around, graduated and thanked Babcock for pointing them on the right track.
Ward stayed in touch with Babcock, and was impressed how he handled some of the situations at Brockport, working with students and also with construction of new townhouses.
“He’s worked with tough characters and high-level people,” Ward said. “He’s been involved with major projects.”
RIT has been in growth mode in recent years, and continues to expand. Babcock will helped manage another $1.9 million in renovations and projects this year.
Babcock said RIT is a home away from home for students. He appreciates Ward’s push for excellence, to make the facilities safe, comfortable and appealing for students and staff.
“We need to give them the best possible experience whether dining, the residence halls, or the apartments,” Babcock said.
The two joked over lunch Tuesday about the upcoming golf season. Babcock, a lefty, is consistent with the 200-yard drives down the middle of the fairway. Ward and some of the long hitters may hit the ball farther than Babcock, but it is often sliced or hooked.
At the end of the day, Babcock wins almost every time.
“He is amazing,” Ward said.