Paul and Jean Lord understand the kind of financial pressures college students can face.

As undergraduate students at the University of Colorado and parents of three children, the couple experienced their share of financial challenges.

“It was a rough time,” says Paul Lord, emeritus professor of aerospace engineering at Cal Poly Pomona.

“We were introduced to beans and franks,” Jean adds with a laugh.

Three scholarships, Paul says, offered some relief.

The couple’s experiences inspired them to establish the Lord Family Scholarship Endowment Fund with a goal to “help students over a rough spot or extend their education,” Jean says.

The Lords’ gift has been invested, and the interest generated will be used to award four scholarships annually for aerospace engineering students, says Ali Ahmadi, professor and chair of the Department of Aerospace Engineering. As the fund grows, more than four scholarships will be awarded.

The couple made an initial gift of $109,000, making it possible to establish the scholarship endowment in spring 2020, says Carrie Geurts, senior director of development in the College of Engineering. The gift included funding so scholarships could be awarded in the 2019-20 academic year, rather than waiting for the endowment fund to bear fruit. The Lords plan to add to the endowment this year, boosting their gift to more than $200,000.

The perpetual nature of the gift is significant.

“This will provide scholarships for generations to come,” Geurts says.

In addition to their desire to assist those experiencing financial need, the Lords were motivated to set up the endowment fund by another factor — student loans. Unlike past generations, recent generations of students often turn to loans to finance a college education, yet the debt can become a burden that graduates shoulder for years, Paul Lord says. According to U.S. News, the average student debt is $30,062 for those who graduated in 2019, about $6,300 more than a decade ago.

“We were fortunate. We got our education, and we didn’t owe anybody anything,” Lord says.

Mentoring Talent

Those who know Paul Lord say he made an impact throughout his 17-year career at Cal Poly Pomona, including his final six years as department chair.

When he joined the faculty in 1980, Lord was “a seasoned aerospace educator,” Ahmadi says. “He was very collegial and a very pleasant person to work with.”

Prior to coming to Cal Poly Pomona, Lord worked at Northrop University in Inglewood for 17 years. Northrop University, now part of Spartan College of Aeronautics and Technology, was founded by Jack Northrop, founder of Northrop Aircraft Company (now Northrop-Grumman Corp). Lord started out teaching and worked his way up to associate dean of engineering.

At Cal Poly Pomona, Lord worked closely with students and was responsible for establishing the student chapter of the National Honor Society for Aerospace Engineering, Sigma Gamma Tau (SGT). He served as the faculty advisor for SGT, as well as for the American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), Ahmadi says.

To students, Lord was more than a professor, says Eric Schmidt, a former student who earned a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering in 1992.

“Professor Lord, he was always a very easy-going professor,” says Schmidt, who met him during his sophomore year. “He listens to understand.”

The professor kept an eye out for internships and recommended students, including Schmidt. The opportunities gave students real world experiences that prepared them for jobs in their chosen field, Schmidt says.

Lord saw Schmidt’s talent in rocket systems development and guided him into the field.

“That’s what a mentor does,” Schmidt says. “He helped guide me along that path.”

Real World Experiences

Schmidt went on to become a co-founder and president of Exquadrum Corporation, an Inland Empire-based company that designs, constructs and tests rocket systems. He also serves on the Department of Aerospace Engineering’s Industry Action Council and the College of Engineering Dean’s Leadership Board.

The college has long benefitted from industry professionals advising faculty and administrators. During Lord’s tenure, he too injected his knowledge of the industry into the curriculum.

“He brought a blend of industry thinking and academic rigor to the department,” Schmidt says.

That formula of hands-on curriculum, experienced faculty and excellent students are what make the College of Engineering graduates so successful.

“They could go in and start,” Lord says of engineering alumni. “They fit so well in the industry.”

Thirteen years into retirement, Lord says he still misses his students and colleagues.

“I miss the camaraderie of working with faculty and students,” he says.

As the Lords prepare to grow the endowment fund, they encourage others to support Cal Poly Pomona.

“I urge other alumni and retired faculty to establish scholarships and continue to support the university,” Paul Lord says. “It’s a great university and a great department they should continue to support. … I’m sure it has paid off for them in their careers.”

By Monica Rodriguez
Published March 17, 2021