Paula Ford: NCR-SARE Hero (Presented Posthumously)

Coordinated by the NCR-SARE Alumni Organization, the term “NCR-SARE Hero” recognizes the leadership, vision, contributions, and impact that certain people have made in the field of sustainable agriculture in the region. 

Dr. Paula Bridgid Ford was raised in the suburbs of Chicago until her family moved to North Carolina when she was a teenager. She graduated with honors from Clemson University in 1987 with a B.S. degree in Agronomy and completed her M.S. in Soil Science at The University of Georgia in 1989, where she also began her career with SARE.

Ford supported sustainable agriculture and SARE for more than 20 years. From 1991-1997, she served as the Program Coordinator for the Southern Region SARE program where she helped conceptualize and initiate Southern SARE’s 2010 System Research Methods Handbook. She then moved on to a new role as the North Central Region SARE Professional Development Program Coordinator at Kansas State University for 11 years (1999-2009), where she worked to improve SARE’s outreach capacity by reimagining and strengthening the SARE State Coordinator program. An expert at evaluation and measuring impacts, she provided the vision and leadership to improve evaluation and outcome-based programming planning for NCR-SARE. 

After moving on from SARE and receiving her doctorate in human nutrition from Kansas State University in 2009, Ford became an assistant professor at the College of Health Sciences, University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) in 2009. During her two-year tenure at UTEP, she was the Lead Investigator or Co-Lead for almost $2 million in competitive grants. In 2011, she received the Outstanding Research and Performance Award from UTEP’s College of Health Sciences.  The College of Health Sciences established a scholarship for MPH students at UTEP in her name.  

To honor Ford’s contributions to NCR-SARE, the Administrative Council created the 'Paula Ford Professional Development Program Proposal of the Year award. Each year, one Professional Development Program-funded project in the North Central Region is given this special designation. The region selects the project that best exemplifies Dr. Ford's contributions and passion for evaluation, professional development, and/or science-based research.

Ford passed away on October 8, 2011. This recognition was presented posthumously to her husband, Dr. Bill Hargrove.

Leaders in sustainable agriculture offered tributes as Ford was nominated and selected to receive this recognition, including:

  • “From 1999-2009, Paula was the Professional Development Coordinator for the North leadership moved the PDP program to a new level of professionalism in the NCR-SARE. During her tenure in this role of fostering professional development among agricultural extension professionals in the Midwestern states, she worked hard to bring more rigor to outcome-based program planning and professional development in the region and nationally in USDA’s SARE program. She worked directly and patiently with NCR-SARE State Professional Development Program Coordinators to improve state PDP proposals that resulted in more meaningful and measurable impacts. Her work and leadership moved the PDP program to a new level of professionalism in the NCR-SARE.” - Deborah Cavanaugh-Grant, owner, New Leaf Consulting, and past NCR-SARE State Coordinator
  • “Paula was a driving force to increase the engagement of state coordinators in the Professional Development Program. She convinced the Administrative Council to increase the amount of funds going into each state so that SARE bought a piece of their time. She made sure that the state coordinators followed through on this commitment and now state coordinators have much greater influence with extension in their state.” – Kim Kroll, Associate Director, National SARE
  • “Paula was a BULLDOG. She was committed to ensuring that SARE PDP knew what its impacts were and how SARE PDP could learn and improve from the evaluation of its efforts. Some of the feedback tools she designed are still in use today. For a tough Chicago gal, she also exhibited patience and grace, knowing that very little that matters is built in one day. She left us too soon, and she's missed. " – Al Kurki, past Associate PDP Coordinator for Western SARE
  • “The SARE Professional Development Program is what it is today, throughout the country because of her leadership. Paula was an amazing force within the Sustainable Professional Development Program that worked with Extension, NGO leadership, and other educational leadership. Her dedication and leadership in science-based research created the foundation for the program. The first time I met Paula at an Administrative Council meeting, I knew I wanted to get to know this woman! I could see she was dedicated to SARE and loved what she was doing. She was also smart, funny, dynamic and a no-nonsense person! Over time, I learned Paula was deeply caring, giving to many, and helping to make the world a better place. She was a very special friend and colleague. I use what I learned from Paula every day. I am so grateful to have had her in my life.  I'll always miss her.” – Linda Kleinschmit, past NCR-SARE PDP Associate Coordinator