Doug Ward describes his early years in Benton Harbor, Mich., as “well below poverty.” An only child, Ward lost his mother when he was 18 months old, spending the next 17 years living interchangeably with his father, grandparents and other relatives. “There were times where there wasn’t a whole lot of food on the table,” he remembers, “and I just decided I wanted better than that.”
That desire fueled Ward’s passion to excel — so much so that, by the fourth grade, he was placed in a school for gifted students. However, by the time he was a freshman, Ward was “driving his teachers crazy,” says Steven Lick, graphic arts instructor at Benton Harbor High School. Ward simply wasn’t being challenged, but he did express an interest in printing after touring Lick’s classroom.
As a favor to the other teachers, Lick allowed Ward to enter his class a year early. From there, a lasting bond was formed. “He truly paid attention and encouraged me,” Ward says, “and no one had ever really done that before.”
Lick remembers, “Doug was always looking to better himself. He’s the kind of kid that jumps out.”
Ward excelled in the class, but one day he discovered a SkillsUSA emblem in storage. “I asked Mr. Lick what it was,” he says, “and he told me all about SkillsUSA, but we really didn’t have an active chapter at that time.” With Lick’s guidance, he set out to change that, “stomping the grounds” to recruit new members. Ward went on to become state vice president.
After graduating as class salutatorian, Ward transferred to the printing program at Ferris State University, financing his education with an honors scholarship and various printing jobs. Lick was no longer his official SkillsUSA advisor, but when Ward won the national gold medal in Graphic Communications, he presented the accompanying advisor’s medal to Lick without hesitation. “He’ll always be my advisor,” Ward says. “He knew I had potential, and he helped me understand that. I can’t convey how much it meant.”
Today, Ward, 27, is a printing services specialist at the U.S. Government Printing Office in Washington, where his work directly affects national security. Coming full circle in SkillsUSA, he’s preparing to serve on the national technical committee for the contest in which he won a gold medal.
“He’s a huge success,” Lick says proudly. “SkillsUSA gave him the structure and organization to become that. He gives me a lot of credit I’m not sure I really deserve.”
“That’s not true at all,” Ward counters. “He deserves every bit of it.”