2019 Alumnus of the Year: William C.B. Harding ’78
William Charles Ballough Harding ’78 is changing lives by creating solutions to global healthcare challenges through the development of new and improved medical devices. As the chair of the Healthcare Innovation Team at Medtronic—the world’s largest medical device company— Harding and his colleagues are transforming medical products and services around the world.
A celebrated biomedical engineer and innovator, Harding and his team have developed Medtronic’s core technologies, which are used to treat nearly 40 medical conditions. In 2018 alone, the 300-member research team that Harding leads, filed 45 patent applications. Harding is also the sole inventor of the first wireless pacemaker for the heart and co-inventor of countless other medical devices.
Early in his career Harding worked at Raytheon maintaining various programs used for launch support at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, but he believes that he started making the greatest difference when he moved into a biomedical career. “I have the opportunity, and I consider myself almost spoiled, to be able to create new things and be enabled as a dreamer” Harding said. “I know that I’m affecting patients, I know that I’m improving their quality of life. I know that I’m restoring life for them.”
Throughout his career and personal life, Harding has received many accolades. He has filed over 76 patents and officially holds 10 patents to his name, including for medical devices that improve the treatment of cardiac and neurological diseases and enhance patient data protection. He was selected as a Medtronic Distinguished Technical Fellow–the company’s highest recognition for technical contributors–and in addition, he is emeritus chair of the Tempe Technical Guild and a two-time recipient of the Tempe Mayor’s Disabilities Award. He also has a black belt in Taekwondo and was a competitive skydiver, holding the U.S. record for the fastest accelerated freefall, traveling at 307 mph.
“Without a doubt, my time at Milton Hershey School stimulated the career path that I have followed without faltering,” Harding said. “The moments sitting next to my middle school teacher, Mr. [Wallace] Conway, where I realized that math is cool; my time with Mr. [Robert] Hopple, learning computer science for three summers programming on punch cards; to the experience gained from Mr. [Ken] Cook in electronics, I know 100 percent that my time attending MHS shaped my successful professional path.”
In addition, Harding fondly remembers the positive influences on his self-worth and eventual professional path by his mentor, MHS Principal William Fisher ’50; swimming coaches Richard Thieler and Ken Kauffman; and high school teachers LeRoy Wolfe, John Cook, James Jones, Ken Sharp ’65, Mike Weller ’66 and Lewis Webster.
“To think that you’ve gone to a school that invested so much in you, that believed in you, it’s just so humbling” said Harding. “And I think that might be one of the superpowers that Milton Hershey put in me, the ability to believe in others.”
After graduating from MHS, Harding went on to earn a Bachelor of Science degree in computer science with an emphasis on electrical engineering at Millersville University. Since then, he earned a master’s degree in Information Systems from University of Phoenix and is on track to complete a Ph.D. in General Psychology with an emphasis in Integrating Technology, Learning and Psychology at Grand Canyon University in 2019.
Harding enrolled at MHS in 1973 when he was 13, along with his brothers, Gerry Ballough ’76 and Glenn Ballough, who left the school after his older brothers graduated. Their mother learned about MHS shortly after the death of their father in 1970. Their sisters, Gina and Linda, remained with their mother because MHS enrolled only boys at the time.
In addition to memories of staff, some of Harding’s fondest memories of MHS include playing baseball, ice hockey and flag football; enjoying town privileges; going to Hersheypark; designing and flying remote-controlled airplanes with the Piston Poppers; and building his first radio.
While at MHS, Harding was a member of the junior and senior swimming teams, worked as a lifeguard and water safety instructor and was a member of the drill team (color guard).
Harding also attributes his strong sense of ethics and personal accountability to his years at MHS, and he describes the key to success and happiness in life as the sum of truth, personal accountability, time management and attitude. He referred to a quote attributed to Mark Twain to emphasize the value of truth: “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”
“There are many times that I reflect on being an MHS student, which I personally believe saved my life and gave me a renewed focus on leading a meaningful life,” Harding said. “With that point in mind, I often think about the beauty that surrounded me in the town of Hershey and the foundation that Milton Hershey provided me and my older brother, where both our careers have focused on stimulating/educating those around us.”
“Besides saving my life, MHS gave me the education and environment to develop into an individual with no regrets, who tries to make a significant difference and who optimistically looks forward to every day.”
In his free time, Harding enjoys photography and travel, and for many years, he spent nearly every weekend skydiving around the world, having completed over 2,400 dives across the globe, including in the French Alps, Mont Blanc and the Florida Keys.
In 2005, Harding survived a skydiving accident that resulted in the amputation of his leg. “When we think of the Spartans we think of that resilience and that determination” said Harding. “It was the same thing I had, I am not going to give up, I am not going to let this circumstance define who I am. So when I look and reflect back on what I went through in skydiving and in other traumatic events, and I think about what got me through, it’s not superpowers, it’s accountability. And I think Milton Hershey gave me that same strength, or at least allowed me to magnify what was already naturally there.”
Harding and his wife of 27 years, Madeline, reside in Chandler, Arizona, with their dogs, Roo and Ivi.
Reflecting on the impact of being honored as the 2019 Alumnus of the Year, Harding said:
“I am humbled and honored beyond belief, and I feel that being recognized as the MHS Alumnus of the Year means more to me than any professional awards, titles, patents, or academic degrees.”