Like many people, reading has always been a passion for James David Ballard. For someone who describes himself as a voracious reader, being diagnosed with dyslexia transformed that passion into a challenge.
Ballard, a sociology professor at CSUN, has spent his life overcoming adversity and defying the limitations of his disability.
‘In fifth grade I was diagnosed with a reading problem, this came out because even though I made it that far in school, I had difficulty reading. I got some training to overcome the immediate problems, which made it easier to read,’ said Ballard.
Writing remains an issue he struggles with, says Ballard, because there are particular words that he cannot physically see.
‘I still have writing issues, for instance if you get an email from me you will probably find misspellings. Such as ‘from’ and ‘form,’ I will make that mistake constantly. I literally cannot see that it’s incorrect because in my mind it looks correct,’ said Ballard.
After receiving the proper help from his school, Ballard says reading helped him move beyond his problem and he was able to read.
Ballard now reads several books a week and says that on vacations, he packs a minimum of twenty.
‘Starting in fifth grade my love for reading began. I didn’t think I would ever make it through college. Now, I regularly publish articles, I write government reports about terrorism, even though I still have those writing issues,’ said Ballard.
Ballard is also the CSUN director for the Intelligence Community Center of Academic Excellence. The courses he teaches prepare students who want to go into law enforcement and intelligence services.
A lot of effort and hard work goes into the editing process, says Ballard. ‘The writing is quick and easy, but the editing takes me three times as long.’
Academia had not always been the career path Ballard imagined for himself. In fact, growing up he believed he would go into construction.
‘My dad was a working class guy who had an 8th grade education and I thought I would be a construction worker. We came from a working class family. Then I spent some time at El Camino College and after started working in the aerospace industry,’ said Ballard.
During that time Ballard made aircraft and worked on flight hardware and missiles. He worked on the very first shuttle that was carried across the country, working on the pieces that held it to the Boeing 747.
‘Then somewhere along I decided that I wanted to be a professor and finished my undergraduate degree at Jacksonville State University in Alabama. I was probably 33-years- old when I went back to school, then got my masters and worked on my PhD in sociology for seven years at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas,’ Ballard said.
The focus of his studies has always been criminology and political sociology. He studies crime, politics and terrorism.
‘Fifteen years ago when I started no one cared about terrorism and then September 11th happened. I write about the protection of nuclear power plants and how they can be used as a weapon. I have been privileged to testify in front of congress, travel all over the world and work with NATO,’ Ballard said.
‘For a working class kid who should have been in construction, this has been a dream. I went back to school because I wanted to teach. I come to school everyday with a smile on my face, I love my job,’ Ballard said.
While at Jacksonville State University, Ballard remembers taking a class with a professor who grabbed his attention. He says that Dr. Rodney Fiery inspired him to become a professor.
‘He inspired me to do something more, to study politics and get a PhD. When I work with my students, I remember Dr. Fiery who encouraged me to reach higher. He gave me confidence and let me know that I could do it. Convinced me that I could do it, he is one of my heroes and I hope in my classes to do the same, to inspire and give them the same chance to live their dreams the way I have,’ said Ballard.
Ballard has taught at CSUN for seven years now. Recently he has become the co-president of the California Faculty Association. He says that he enjoys working around the university to help make it better.
‘It’s not easy work being a professor but when you have the love for what you do, it makes it easier. Every class I teach I talk about my learning disability and how it can be overcome, we have a great center here on campus,’ Ballard said.
The Center on Disabilities at CSUN provides services to about 840 students with different disabilities and offers students an opportunity to receive the help they need.
‘It’s not easy, it’s never easy, but you can find the tools to overcome it. Many students are ashamed and hide their struggle, don’t want their disability to follow them to college, they don’t seek the help they need, there is no stigma, it’s about getting through and being successful. Writing isn’t about just putting something on paper, it’s about making it worthwhile, having it mean something,’ Ballard said.