When Ken Gordon traveled recently to the Chrysler Museum in Auburn Hills, Mich., what he thought would be a typical Gorilla Gathering with alumni from the area turned into something much more personal.
Gordon, an automotive professor who plans to enter phased retirement next summer after 42 years with PSU, was honored by Pitt State alumni and auto industry executives Joe Hilger and Jim Press with a surprise presentation thanking him for his decades of service – not only to the university, but to the automotive industry, as well.
During the Gathering, which had about 100 alums in attendance, Hilger, who is a retired vice president of global service for Chrysler, spoke to the audience about Gordon and the effect he had on Hilger when he was a student.
“There’s a lot to talk about in terms of his integrity and credibility in the industry, but the giving of his time to students is number one. It was never about how quickly he could leave the classroom,” said Hilger, who now serves as director of alliances and Chrysler dealer development with Mobile Productivity, Inc.
In honor of Gordon’s career, Press, the vice chairman and president of Chrysler, presented him with a glass-encased replica of a Chrysler 300 Hemmie. Inscribed on its wooden base was a personal message from Press: “Whenever we take a drink of sweet water, we remember who dug the well. Kenny, you have done so much for the industry!”
For Hilger, the recognition and gift are only small symbols of thanks to Gordon for what has been an extraordinary contribution.
“It’s a tremendous learning curve to keep up with the changing automotive world, and he has always been on the forefront of learning what is new,” Hilger said. “He is always looking to be sure that the students are prepared by looping back to industry. He helped shape a lot of students, and he’s made Pittsburg famous for what it continues to provide.”
The tide of students graduating from automotive technology and heading into careers with auto makers across the world have no doubt been better for their relationships with Gordon, who counts his student roster over the years at about 6,000. Not only does he provide them with a solid automotive education, he recommends them for jobs and continues to check in with them years after they’ve graduated, even nominating some for PSU’s prestigious Outstanding Alumni and Meritorious Achievement Awards. Maintaining those relationships, he says, are part of what has made him a successful teacher.
“I don’t consider myself an excellent lecturer, but I am a person who gets along well with people with whom I work and who I’ve had in class,” Gordon said. “It is people like (Hilger and Press) who have made my job at PSU the best and most satisfying any human could have.”
Many alumni cite Gordon as the reason for their own career success, something College of Technology Dean Bruce Dallman says he hears time and again. Last year, when Dallman visited the Skills USA competition, he observed Gordon working with a student and immediately recognized his passion for teaching. Getting to know those students, what they’re capable of, and why they would make a good employee, has led auto companies to turn directly to Gordon for personal recommendations.
“I do have a reputation for being honest about how I feel about my students,” Gordon said. “When I say something with enthusiasm about them, they can take that to the bank.”
Dallman knows this to be true.
“These men and women – current and former students, as well as industry friends – have so much appreciation and respect for him not only as a teacher but as a person,” he said. “People know that what Kenny says is gold.”