Faculty Emeritus Buffer helped shape field of technology education
Faculty Emeritus James J. “Jim” Buffer Jr., who passed away October 12 in Ft. Myers, Florida, earned distinction in technology education, human performance and organizational development during his illustrious career.
From 1967 to 1989 at Ohio State, Buffer contributed to broadening the field’s perspective of what was then called industrial technology. In a 2016 interview with the International Technology and Engineering Educators Association, he described Ohio State as being open to creating “a field of study that would expand on the socially redeeming values of ‘technological literacy’ for all learners.”
With his characteristic humor and passion, he went about broadening that perspective.
Revamping the middle-school industrial arts program
A key project contributing to a broader perspective was Buffer’s work with college colleagues Donald Lux and Willis Ray on the Industrial Arts Curriculum Project (IACP), funded by a $1.5 million federal grant. Additional funding came from industry and business, professional associations, labor unions and educational institutions, showing widespread support.
The innovative curriculum introduced middle school students to the 20th-century world of large-scale construction and manufacturing, instead of teaching the skills to make isolated items such as footstools or lamps.
IACP taught the most important elements of each industry, from market research, planning and project management to technical aspects, including lab work such as building product prototypes or erecting housing frames and installing wiring and plumbing.
He and his colleagues published the curriculum commercially and managed workshops at 45 colleges and universities to prepare teachers to adopt or adapt the system. The curriculum also became the basis for revising the college’s technology teacher education program. Other universities with teacher education programs followed suit.
Supporting vocational education, number one in the nation
Thanks to Buffer and other innovators, the vocational education program at Ohio State was and still is ranked No. 1 nationwide. He brought value to the program by authoring scholarly publications over the years. His diverse subjects addressed industrial technology, autism, what was then called mental retardation, special education, leadership development and neuroscience.
Buffer also developed several interdisciplinary graduate degree programs at Ohio State. One was vocational rehabilitation counseling.
Another was an interdisciplinary program in neuroscience that involved faculty in medicine, engineering and education. He co-directed the program’s brain development research laboratory in the College of Medicine, a pioneering initiative to understand how we learn.
As associate dean of the college’s Office of Research Services, Buffer brought prestige to Ohio State by providing advanced training and development services to the private sector. He worked with major manufacturing corporations, institutions of higher education and banking, financial and sales operations throughout the United States, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Indonesia.
He enhanced the organizations’ capacity and knowledge, at the same time expanding opportunities for graduate students. These students, who became leaders, gained expertise as Buffer involved them in outreach and research endeavors that included international travel.
Banks and corporations recognized Buffer’s excellence by inviting him to sit on their boards. Universities around the globe asked him to speak on a breadth of topics.
Buffer also served the field, giving his time generously. He was president of both the Council for Technology Teacher Education and the National Council for Industrial and Technology Teacher Education. He was a distinguished member of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.
He was invited to be a member of three international honorary societies in education, as well as to be a co-trustee of Epsilon Pi Tau, Alpha Chapter, at Ohio State.
In 1984, he was named the Technology Teacher Educator of the Year by the American Council on Industrial Arts Teacher Education. Yet even as he impacted the lives of so many, his family says he most prized a teaching award from his Ohio State students for being a “Professor Who Gives a Damn.”
Beyond Ohio State
After retiring from Ohio State in 1989, Buffer became the Horace G. Fralin Professor and dean of the College of Education at Virginia Tech, where he served until 1997. In this role, he was active in the Association of Deans of Education in State Universities and Land Grant Colleges.
In 1987, he founded the Collegiate Management Institute, an international leadership program where he worked after retiring from Virginia Tech. He retired for the last time in 2003 to enjoy life in Fort Myers.
Buffer received his bachelor’s degree from Chicago Teachers College, and his master’s and doctoral degrees from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He gained early experience as a classroom teacher, counselor and administrator in the Chicago Public Schools. Before joining Ohio State, he was an assistant professor at Chicago State University.
Buffer's wife, Loretta, is an EHE alumna, having earned both a master’s and a doctorate from the college. Sons James C. and Jeffrey also are EHE alumni, while son Thomas earned an Ohio State music degree and daughter Karen graduated from Florida State University.