August 22, 2017
In 2015, Derrick Kuzak was honored with the University’s Spirit of Detroit Mercy Alumni Achievement Award. He is pictured at the event with his daughter, Allison, left, wife, Kate, and University President Antoine M. Garibaldi.

Derrick Kuzak ’73, ’74, ’76, did not know exactly how his life would be transformed when he enrolled in the University of Detroit. But he now knows he can help transform the lives of others by helping them along a path to success that begins with a Detroit Mercy education.

The new Kuzak Family Foundation Scholarship celebrates the educational process at Detroit Mercy and the University’s partnership with Ford Motor Co., where Kuzak served as group vice president for global product development when he retired four years ago. It was created with his wife, Kate, and daughter Allison with a substantial gift from the family foundation.

 “The aspects of my University of Detroit education that made the most impact on me are just as relevant in distinguishing the University today,” Kuzak said. “That speaks to their importance and the continuity of the University’s mission — and you can’t say that about many organizations over a 40- or 50-year span.”

His praise begins with the quality of the faculty and their dedication to teaching.

“With the relatively small class sizes, there becomes a mentoring relationship, where students discuss what they’re learning with very smart people, which helps raise the level of understanding,” he said.

The University’s team-centered approach to class projects and work also was of use in Kuzak’s career: “Teamwork skills are very important, because no one does anything alone in industry, and knowing how to interact well with others is vital.”

And then there are the internships, which Kuzak called “invaluable.” As a 19-year-old, he took his first plane flight to Washington, D.C., where he spent his first of three semesters working internships at the National Security Agency.

“I wasn’t just learning about engineering, I was learning how to be an adult in a professional setting,” he said. “How to dress and how to ask questions at meetings, and learning these skills early helped later.”

And, of course, the Jesuit values not only informed his career, but his personal life.

“These Catholic values of integrity—doing what you say you will, teamwork—the team is more important than the individual, as well as humility are important and become more significant throughout the years,” he said. “Jesuits think of service to the community and to the church, and that is also how you lead, as a servant to your team.”

In his years with Ford, Kuzak grew to realize how important a partnership between the automaker and the University could be. Through joint efforts, the two created a truly unique relationship for 25 years that benefited both the University, which received funding and opportunities for its students, and Ford, whose employees became better contributors through special industry-oriented programs developed by Detroit Mercy.

The Kuzak Family Foundation Scholarship was created to further strengthen those ties, he said. Each year, two students from populations that are underrepresented in the engineering fields will receive tuition assistance and guaranteed co-ops in Ford Product Development throughout their education, a major step in a pathway to a career in automotive engineering at Ford.  Ford has generously agreed to fund an additional scholarship each year.

Because the scholarships follow each recipient through their four years at Detroit Mercy, by the fourth year of the scholarship, eight students each year will benefit from the Kuzak scholarship.  And the two graduating seniors each year will have the opportunity to join the product development organization at Ford Motor. 

“This very significant gift from Dr. Kuzak and his family makes it possible for eight deserving students to have an excellent education in the STEM fields annually and for many years to come,” said University President Antoine M. Garibaldi, Ph.D. “As a three-time engineering alumnus who rose to the senior executive level at Ford Motor Company, Derrick’s professional achievements and his dedication to service will hopefully inspire Kuzak Family Scholars to follow a similar path.”

But Kuzak’s participation does not end with the scholarship. It did not begin there, either. He is a longtime supporter, a Spirit of Detroit Mercy Alumni Achievement honoree and said he was honored to serve on the University’s Board of Trustees. He and his family have also committed their time and experience as mentors to the students who receive the scholarships.

“It will be fun for us to get to know the students and will hopefully be meaningful for them,” Kuzak said.

“We feel blessed to help provide deserving students from economically disadvantaged circumstances the opportunity to have the same path to an exciting and fulfilling career as I had,” Kuzak said.

— By Ron Bernas. Follow Detroit Mercy on FacebookTwitter and Instagram. Have a story idea? Let us know by submitting your idea.