Newest Huntington University DMA prof brings wealth of experience to ‘phase four’

Dawn Ford is a new addition to the Huntington University Digital Media Arts program. Ford’s resume includes stops at NPR and Lucasfilm, and she even produced a PBS television series.
Dawn Ford is a new addition to the Huntington University Digital Media Arts program. Ford’s resume includes stops at NPR and Lucasfilm, and she even produced a PBS television series. Photo by Andre. B. Laird

Originally published Sept. 10, 2012.

To Dawn Ford, the job description for a digital media arts professor at Huntington University read like the score of her favorite soundtrack.

Initially, though, the Ann Arbor, MI, native wasn't so sure that it was the right move at that time.

"Looking back over my career, this will be career phase number four," Ford says. "It's an exciting stage for me."

Ford brings a wealth of experience and an impressive resume to the small, but already star-studded, digital media arts (DMA) department at HU. She is joining professors Bryan Ballinger and Steven Leper, who both previously worked at Big Idea Entertainment, the maker of the VeggieTales series.

"I graduated from the University of Maryland, with a bachelor's in radio, TV and film," Ford says. "My mom was a music teacher, so naturally, my initial major was music."

However, she says, she quickly found that she was drawn more toward the technical side of music and switched her major.

"I had a strong interest in the recording arts and was drawn to sound," she adds.

Ford landed her first A-list job at National Public Radio (NPR) shortly after graduation. She joined the post-production cast for "All Things Considered."

"I consider that experience my graduate school of audio," she says. "It was a thrill to work with so many talented people and hone my audio skills at the same time."

Ford adds that there was never a dull day on the job at NPR.

"One day we would be recording at a street protest, the next day in the senate," she states. "The venues for our pieces varied from day to day."

Because she worked in radio, Ford says, she learned to appreciate storytelling and the importance of making the story interesting to the listener.

"A lot of times, in working with the reporters, they would ask my opinion on how a part sounded," she says. "I felt involved in the entire process, not just the technical side."

Career stage two for Ford began after she met her husband Rich.

"I fell in love, we got married and I followed him to California," she says. "That's when I started working for Sprocket Systems, a division of Lucasfilm."

Ford says that when she arrived, the company was in the finishing stages of "Return of the Jedi." She spent three months helping with foreign language versions of the blockbuster.

The company translated the film into German, two versions of Spanish, French and Italian, she adds.

"I had always wanted to work in audio for pictures and this was a great experience for me," Ford adds. "Plus, you haven't seen Star Wars until you've heard Darth Vader in German."

The next big movie for Lucasfilm was "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom." Ford spent nine months helping with that project.

"It was an awesome experience working with people who later went on to greatness," she adds.

As exciting as the experience was, Ford says she felt something was missing.

"I remember having lunch with my mentor at the time and complaining about something," she says. "He told me that I was worried too much about the content and that the stage at which I was when the project got to us, I had no say or control over content."

Ford says it was then that she realized what she loved about working at NPR.

"I was used to somebody asking me what I thought and enjoyed being a part, if only a small part, of the storytelling process," she says. "At Sprocket Systems, I had no say in regards to content."

This epiphany was the catalyst for Ford's next career move - producing.

"I left the Bay Area and moved to Corvallis, OR, to start a production company," she says. "I started producing corporate media, videos for non-profit organizations, things of that nature. It worked perfectly with my family life."

She also got the opportunity to work with area universities including Oregon State University, Ford adds.

Ford says the pinnacle of her career as a producer was the creation of a PBS series titled "Smart Gardening."

"We worked with all the land grant programs and Extension offices, including Purdue and Oregon," she says. "We provided great information for the viewers."

Another landmark achievement for Ford during that time was shooting the series in high definition (HD).

"We shot the first episode in 2004 and made 65 episodes in four years," Ford says. "At that time, not many people were shooting HD yet. My husband also worked on the project with me as post supervisor and editor and that was a fantastic experience."

As her career progressed, Ford says she remembered a promise she had made to her mother a long time ago.

"I had promised my mom that I would go to go to grad school," she states. "So I moved to San Diego and enrolled in San Diego State's master in film production program."

This launched the fourth stage of Ford's storied career - teaching.

"I started teaching as a teaching assistant at San Diego State," she states. "I also enrolled in National University's M.F.A. professional screenwriting program."
Ford says she immersed herself in the learning the art of storytelling.

"I love being able to work with students and share these skills with them," she adds. "I wanted to be able to help student writers with constructive feedback, not just send them back to their computers."

A member of the Producers Guild of America, in Beverly Hills, CA, Ford says producers are the stewards of storytelling and it is up to them to use their skills in the best way possible.

"Prior to arriving at Huntington, I was teaching at six universities in California," Ford says. "My carbon footprint was horrible - I was running from one place to the next and it was taking a toll."

Ford says that although she was registered with four different job pools for teachers for the last four years, nothing permanent became available.

"I talked with my husband and we decided to expand my job search," she says. "After about two weeks, the Huntington position opened up."

Ford says she remembers reading the job description and slamming the laptop shut in disbelief.

"I felt that the posting was basically a reading of all the things I had experience in," she says. "I couldn't believe it and at the same time, was a little scared."
The prospect of leaving her family to venture to somewhere completely unknown to her was daunting. Ford waited three weeks before applying.

"I talked with a friend who encouraged me to apply and I am glad I was brave enough to do it," she says. "When I got here, I knew that this was where God wanted me to be."

Ford adds that the department has grown in the same way that she would have liked to see a program grow.

"I was glad to see that my skill set adds to the department and doesn't overlap."

Ford's classes include story and conception, digital tools and media management, special topics in audio and sight, sound, motion, a film production class.

"I have thoroughly enjoyed every stage of my career, but if I had to choose the one that gives me the most satisfaction, it would be teaching," she states. "I'm so happy to be here and to share all my experiences with the students."