In Memoriam: Alfonso F. “Rick” Ratcliffe


Vintage portrait of the late dean emeritus of CSUN's College of Engineering and Computer Science, Rick Ratcliffe.Alfonso F. “Rick” Ratcliffe, who served as dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science for more than a decade in the 1980s and early ’90s, died on Nov. 27, 2020. He died of complications from a stroke he had suffered earlier in November.

Ratcliffe had joined CSUN’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering in 1975, and he was appointed chair in 1978. He rose to become the college’s associate dean in 1980 and then dean in 1981. He retired in 1992, when the university granted him emeritus status. One of the first Black deans of an engineering school in the nation, he was considered a role model for many young scholars aspiring to a career in engineering, particularly those interested in teaching or research.

During his tenure as dean, Ratcliffe was instrumental in the success of the college’s Minority Engineering Program, as well as relationships with industry partners. He remained involved with the college during his retirement and served as a member of its Industry Advisory Board until recent years.

“We expect [students] to go out of here ready to start producing a product the day they walk out,” Ratcliffe said in an interview during his time as dean. “We want them to understand the fundamentals of their chosen field.”

Ratcliffe distinguished himself as an engineer, scientist, consultant and educator. He was known for his ingenuity, versatility and analytical ability. He grew up in St. Louis, where schools were still segregated, and moved to Los Angeles to live with an aunt and attend college. After earning a bachelor’s degree in physics from UCLA, he also went on to complete a master’s and a doctorate in engineering from UCLA. His academic areas of interest included control systems theory, dynamics and applied mathematics.

In an interview, Ratcliffe once noted that he had wanted to build bridges since he was a boy, but because engineering jobs were “something rare” for Blacks at that time, he spent several years after college doing other jobs. His early engineering work included time as a test engineer at Rototest Laboratories. From 1969-74, before turning to teaching, he worked in design and manufacturing at Mattel, Inc.

Ratcliffe was preceded in death by his wife, Dolores.