Becca Ford is a chemical engineer by trade, but not just any chemical engineer. During her tenure at Eli Lilly and Company, Ford has scaled the technical ranks to become one of the few female and/or under 40 project managers responsible for the design and construction of drug manufacturing plants. While she may be a trailblazer in the workplace, Ford shares the best of her know-how and expertise to support others in achieving their full potential This is why she is a finalist for United Way ELEVATE’s Volunteer of the Year Award.
Ford, a Purdue alumna, began her career at Eli Lilly in 2004. After a short stint away from Indiana to complete a dual degree masters at MIT, she returned looking for something more. Ford sought out options to volunteer, specifically a 1:1 relationship with impact she could see. She reflected on how her Fellowship program at MIT allowed her access to high-quality education without a huge bill and opened doors for her professionally. She was determined to pay it forward and look for a student – or students – to give that same opportunity.
Enter Starfish Initiative; a community based organization that encourages and prepares promising, economically disadvantaged students for college and career success by pairing them with college-educated mentors. Ford is the only female mentor in the program’s 15-year history who has served 3 teens. Ford credits some of her bond with these three young women – Karli, Dycie and Kylee – to the fact that she is an only child and does not have children of her own. Her goal is to not only get her mentees to college enrollment but stay in contact with them beyond the formal program’s commitment period to support their life journey.
After the experience with her very first mentee Karlie, Ford was ready to proclaim herself a “mentor for life.” When they first met, Karlie was a sophomore in high school. Today, at age twenty-three, Karlie is a graduate of Purdue University with dual Spanish and Political Science degrees and studying for the LSAT. Karlie thinks she might like to be an immigration lawyer.
As Ford explains it, Karlie had every barrier thrown at her during childhood and through high school. She came from a household struggling to meet basic needs and managed the emotional burden of a father incarcerated. The day Ford watched Karlie graduate from high school was like no joy she ever experienced before. She had to go back for more.
When asked where her sense of service comes from, Ford shared, “My mother was the strongest person I knew. She worked two jobs and picked up the slack for my family when my father went through stints of unemployment. She taught me to do what you need to for your people. Starfish is my people. Starfish has taught me how to be a better servant leader. Being a leader isn’t about being directive; it’s about taking away barriers for others to elevate themselves.”
Today, Ford is promoting a partnership called the “Incredible Journey” that would encourage more of her Eli Lilly peers to become Starfish mentors. As Ford points out, she has learned so much professionally from being a mentor; leadership, service, active listening to name a few. “These are skills that leaders say they want to develop. Becoming a Starfish mentor is a low risk way of developing those, while serving the community at the same time.”
Ford truly embodies the sentiment that we rise by lifting others. She’s elevated her Starfish mentees, and now we are thankful to elevate her story as a finalist for the Volunteer of the Year.