Dr. Klyne Smith Interview


– [Nia] This is Nia Kamau
interviewing Dr. Klyne Smith, on June 27th, 2019, at the
Fondren Library at SMU. How are you doing today, Dr. Smith? – I am fantastic, awesome. – [Nia] Awesome. So could you start off by telling us where and when you were born? – Yes, I was actually born
in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, August 1st, 1967. My dad was military, so Lawton, Oklahoma. I stayed there for three months, and then I moved to
Germany for three years. – [Nia] Wow. – Yes, so I spoke German
almost before I spoke English, and I don’t speak German anymore. – [Nia] Unfortunately (laughs). – Yes. – [Nia] So where did you
move to after Germany? – After Germany, we moved
to Gulfport, Mississippi. And playing outside, my mom — I came in, I said, “Mom, the kids
don’t understand me. “I understand them but
they don’t understand me.” She said, “Oh, you have to
speak the language they speak.” And I started speaking English,
I was only three years old, and then I really never
spoke German again. – [Nia] Okay.
– So, Gulfport, Mississippi and part of New Orleans, as well. My dad’s from New Orleans,
my mom’s from Gulfport. So I’ve spent a lot of time
in New Orleans, as well. But Gulfport’s home. – [Nia] Okay. What was you neighborhood like
growing up in Mississippi? – You know, it was actually a upper — I would say a middle-class
African-American neighborhood. It was a lot of people who
came back from the war, the Korean War, the Vietnam War. They actually had GI Bills, they had money so they built houses and we were a nice, pretty solid middle-class neighborhood. – [Nia] And can you tell
me a little bit more about your family? – Yes, so I have my mom and dad. And Mom has a master’s degree. My dad has a associate’s degree. And my brother’s three years older. He went to college for several
years, didn’t quite finish. Growing up was great. Mom was the creative
writing, English teacher, and she taught English for
her whole life in high school. Dad was 22 years military, Green Beret, fought in two wars, got
shot three times, came out, was in the military police
on the base for a while. So I had one side that was
extremely rigid military, strict, and then I had my mom who was trying to balance the equation. So that was actually fun. And I was always a pretty solid
student even though we were in a middle-class neighborhood,
the surrounding areas and watching the
neighborhood start to change and watching my friends start to change, you start to see gangs forming. And you know, not true,
true Bloods and Crips gangs but enough that could
disrupt the environment in some aspects. – [Nia] Mmhmm. So as a child, did you dream
of growing up to be a engineer? Did you have any career dreams? – Well you know, one of my
first cousins, Ronnie Lawrence, he actually went to Xavier University, where I ended up going to college, and he studied engineering
and he went over to Michigan and finished his master’s. And I watched him and I
enjoyed how he carried himself, how he was always giving
back to the community. And I wanted to kind of mimic that. And so I guess around
seven, eighth grade when I started realizing what he
did and what he was doing, I decided I wanted to be
in the computer world. So in ninth grade I think I
took my first computer class, and so from that point on, I
knew I wanted to write code and be a computer scientist
or computer engineering. And so that was easy for me because I knew what I wanted to do. I enjoyed it, and I was good at it. – [Nia] Mmhmm. And I wanna touch back on that
academic side a little bit but real quick I wanted to ask, growing up in an African-American
neighborhood, a predominantly African-American neighborhood, did you notice any tense
race relations growing up? – You know ,I grew up in Mississippi, so I had two crosses burned
in my yard by the KKK. We had a hang noose hanging
in our tree from the KKK. We actually had death threats. We would go down the street on the beach. Gulfport, Mississippi is on the beach, and the KKK would collect money and they wouldn’t stop the black car, they didn’t stop cars
with black people in it but they would ask for money. And so the KKK was prevalent. There was a lot of
heavy racism growing up. Only X amount of black people could go into a store a one time. Now the parents could
go, just not the kids. Adults could go, but when
we were by ourselves, we couldn’t go. We were followed around
the stores consistently. Just a very, very heavy, very clear racism growing up in Mississippi. And even though we were on the
coast, we had it a lot better than upstate Mississippi and other places because we had the military bases. We had Keesler and we had the Naval base and the military was integrated, and, you know, they protected
their own, so we were able to get away from some of
the heavy, heavy racism that other places had it
where it was covered up. It was tough growing up but I didn’t know anything differently, so
it was just what it was. You knew if you were in
line and a white person came behind you, they were gonna
help the white person first and that’s how it worked. And then I finally got
older and I went to college and realized, oh that’s wrong. So then we started our fight or movement, as much as possible. – [Nia] Mmhmm. So you had two cross burned on your lawn. Was that common in the neighborhood or was your family targeted? – Our house almost sat
kind of in the center of the neighborhood, so it
was easy to get that one to be seen around. And we were on a corner lot. And we had a nice corner
lot, so we had areas where they could get in and
they had three streets they could get out of. So it was more about the
location than it was our family. And there were two more burned
in the neighborhood, as well. Well, actually six more. There were some on the back streets, the back roads where they
could get in and get out. And then hang noose they
hung and they actually did call the house and say, “We’re gonna hang your
family and kill your family.” – [Nia] Wow. – It was comical to us though. We weren’t afraid of that
because we knew who the KKK were. We knew who they were. I mean, they wore sheets but
we also knew who they were. So we didn’t have that kind of fear fear, it was more of a frustration. – [Nia] Okay. So, since you knew who
some of the members were, were any of them like prominent
members in the community? – Oh yeah, definitely. They were in the political arena. They owned businesses
and they owned shops. I think I was one of those things where you almost had to be a
part of this kind of group because they were in control. I don’t think people
all wanted to be a part but they had to be affiliated
with it to do business. After a while, when they
realized that it was the wrong, I mean they knew it was the wrong thing, but when we were able to
speak out and speak up and the military bases
came, you saw some of the prominent people kind
of fade away from that. But it was a benefit to be a white male in Mississippi because
you got the benefits. – [Nia] Okay. So you said that when you got to college, you realize that hey this isn’t normal, and you said that you
started to take some action. Is that what you said? – Yeah, so basically my
high school was probably 65 or 70% white, maybe a little
less, I’m not exactly sure and you know, you’re in a community where you could speak up and you could fight. And we had great people who
really fought the cause, the Dunns, and the Daniels,
and even the Lawrences, and the Flowers. We had people who were
fighting the cause for us. But we were younger. When I got to college, I
went to Xavier University, which is an all black,
historical black college and I went there on purpose
because I really needed to kind of regroup on my own. And also my cousin went there,
so it made it a lot easier. And got there and realized
that now you’re talking to a lot more African-American
people from Chicago, and from California, from
Detroit, from all over the United States and
they weren’t going through the same things we went
through in the South, as much. They still had it, but it was different. And then from there we
said, okay, how do we help? And that’s when we started
mentoring at elementary schools. We started raising money for the National Society — National
Advancement of Colored People– National Association of Advancement
of Colored People, NAACP and we started working
with the Urban League. So we started figuring out how can we help the New Orleans community. How can we help each young
black person get better? And that’s when we started
putting action in place, and I’ve been doing
that since college now. I still do it. – [Nia] Wow, that’s awesome. So when you graduated with
your undergraduate degree, what did you do immediately after? – I went and took a job with IBM, and I went to Charlotte, North Carolina. And I think within the fourth
week of being in Charlotte, I started working, and
mentoring, and volunteering at the Boys and Girls Club. And I started coaching and making sure all of my students were on the honor roll. A lot of inner-city students
who had single parents and working with them, making
sure they stayed intact. And helping IBM, setting
up programs with IBM with Junior Achievement and helping IBM. IBM was really good about helping and giving back to the community. So they would give funds and
donations to help the kids at the Boys and Girls Club, and I worked with that for many years. And then I left IBM Charlotte,
and I went to IBM Atlanta. And I just continued the same concept, helping young African-American kids and just tutoring,
mentoring, and showing them different ways to approach things. – [Nia] What were some
of the practical ways that you were able to pour into students to see them get on the
honor roll and thrive? – The primary thing was
really sitting down with them and talking to them about
homework and doing their homework with them and helping
make sure they understood. You gotta understand,
these are single parents, either working parents
who both had to work eight or 10 hours a day or
10 to 12 hours and they were blue collar workers so when
they came home they were tired. They may not have been educated. They were frustrated. This was North Carolina, so
they were getting hammered at work because they
were still the minority or lower on the pole,
and they were frustrated. And so working with the
kids and just saying, “hey, what kind of homework do you have?” And teaching the kid
how to do their homework and helping them do their
homework and making sure they did it right because
if you do your homework, when you take a test
you’re gonna be stronger. So the practical thing was
really sitting with them, giving them time, giving them attention, and helping them get better. That’s it. It’s time. No secrets. And once they got their homework,
they helped someone else, then you put them in charge
of helping somebody else and you start an entire network. – [Nia] Okay. – That’s when I started
working with helping people go to college. I work with a non-profit
now and it really focuses on helping seniors get into college. Because I started dealing with
their sisters and brothers who were coming to pick them up and I say, so what are you doing? “Well, I graduate next year.” What are you gonna do next? “I don’t know.” And their parents weren’t
in a position to understand how that works, so I started helping them fill out applications, apply for grants, apply for scholarships and just one by one starting getting people into college. – [Nia] That’s incredible. – It’s been fun though. It’s what we have to do. – [Nia] Mmhmm. So you went to pursue several
other academic degrees– – Yes.
– [Nia] Afterwards. What were some of those degrees? – Well, the first degree I
got was the Executive Masters of Information Systems from
George Washington University. So I pursued the George Washington because IBM paid for my degrees. And so I went to George Washington and got my first master’s. And then when I left George
Washington, I went up to IBM, I did a couple of startup
companies and then one of the next companies paid for
my — Harrah’s Entertainment, Caesars Palace now, the casinos. I worked for them for three years. They paid for my MBA at
Christian Brothers University. And so, once I finished that I started working for Alcatel-Lucent. And Alcatel-Lucent actually
paid for my doctorate at SMU. – [Nia] Awesome. So what year did you start at SMU? – I started at SMU in 2007
and I graduated in 2013. And I took my time because,
once again, I was working. I was running Asia at one
time, from a software delivery standpoint, or leading the
program delivery portions and I was running a large
portion of North America at one time. And at that point I said I
know I wanna get my doctorate because ultimately I wanna
be a university professor. That’s been my goal. That’s where I wanted to
go and I was gonna do that at age 60 or 65 and then move to Hawaii and just kind of roll through the sunset teaching the University of
Hawaii on the Maui campus. That’s my goal. That’s where I’ll be and
so I knew I needed to get my doctorate sooner or later. And so I got here, SMU
being one of the top engineering schools in the
country, it was a no-brainer. And I remember applying
and I had to take my GRE. I went that Thursday and took the GRE, turned my scores in, and here we are. So that was awesome. – [Nia] So cool. So what were some of your
expectations coming into SMU? – Expectations were to help
me connect software delivery and the software delivery
lifecycle with computer science. So that’s why I got my doctorate
of Software Engineering, a Doctorate of Engineering
in Software Engineering because software engineering
is that process of delivering a computer science type
solution, I call it. And so that was something
that was really intriguing. It was a brand new degree
and my expectations were to work with the top notch professors here to really understand how to dig deep into each one of the lifecycle pieces. And that was really beneficial
because I could take this and go right back to work and use it. – [Nia] Wow. – Yeah, that was the fantastic part. So I was actually making changes at work, real time for the six years,
during my degree time. – [Nia] So who were
some of these professors or staff members who
impacted your time at SMU. – Frank Coyle, Dr. Coyle. He was instrumental because
he taught you to go beyond kind of what you see
and to really dig deep into the processes and the concept. Dr. Tien with testing,
really helping you understand if you can validate
this, approve this test, it’ll work in the field
and if it works right, then you got a better solution, you got less cost on maintenance. And Dr. Nair, Suku. Suku was excellent as far as helping you understand
that the business concept along with the deep technical knowledge. And there was many others,
but those are three that really stand out. – [Nia] Mmhmm. So were there any experiences
that you had at SMU that really stood out, that
were super memorable for you? – Well the first one was
the day I was defending my dissertation to get my doctorate. And we were in a heated
conversation (laughs) and in the middle of the
conversation they said, “Okay, that’s good, you can step out now.” And so that was a panic moment. And so you have to go outside and wait and I wasn’t finished
proving my point or arguing. And within five minutes they
came out and that five minutes felt like an hour or it felt like two days and they brought me back in and said, “Congratulations, you’ve
completed your requirements “for your doctorate degree.” So that really stands out. The other one that stands
out is when I was in the operating system class
or architectural class and we had to write some
code to build a sniffer. And a sniffer basically
goes through the network and finds out what’s going
on in the network and really understanding how the data
works or how the traffic flows. And after I finished writing
it, and I went to my professor and I said, “you know, I can’t
keep writing code like this.” I’m not that technical. I’m not that person, but if I could put a presentation together and
help the students understand how we can sell, and how we can position, and how we can market a sniffer,
I’d really appreciate that. So that’s the first time
the professor let me speak in front of the class the next week, and I talked to them about the
benefits of writing the code, not just why to write it. And that was my passion, to
get in front of the students and start teaching. – [Nia] Mmhmm. So as you reflect back on
your time as a student here at SMU, how do you feel about it overall? – You know, as a student, it was exciting, and I’ll tell you why it was exciting. While I was not the traditional,
come to class everyday type student, I came once a
week at night or twice a week, I actually got a chance to meet a lot of fantastic students that were my peers. And we stay in touch to this day. Some of them are doing adjunct here, some we’ve done business together with, so that correlation of
those students who were in the same program and that bond we formed is still very, very important. And then starting to go
outside and telling people that you went to SMU or you
go to SMU, you start to see the extended community
and how they welcomed you. – [Nia] Wow, that’s awesome. – That was awesome. – [Nia] So how soon after
you graduated with your PhD did you start teaching at SMU? – I graduated December of ’13. I think they called me in… I wanna say… I think ’15. So January of ’15, so one, maybe two years, maybe a year and a half. A year and a half, two
years I started teaching. They asked me to teach
the network design class, network architectural design because I was working
in telecommunication. I was a project management expert and it fell together that way. And I’ve been teaching adjunct ever since. – [Nia] So what really motivated you to want to be a college professor? – The motivation was really
a fantastic retirement. So I retired from the corporate world. That generates income
but being a professor, it allows you to kind of
continue giving back, whereas, in the corporate world, I may not have the technical expertise that
everyone’s coming in but I’m a great leader. But going into the university
allows me to help the students who are about to go into corporate world and teach them and help them think through what they need to do when they get there. So the benefit of being
in the corporate world and coming back into the
computer science space and the engineering space
where these students are about to start someplace
that you’ve actually been for the last 25, 30 years. So that was the second motivation. The first one was able to
actually come in, and teach, and give that knowledge,
and they pay you for it, and you can have a total
different life of stress than in the corporate world. And it has its own stress,
it has its own push, I mean it’s not like it’s
easy, it’s not like you come in and leave and go away, but it’s
a different level of stress. And then the second part
is really helping the kids and helping them think through this. How to interview for jobs. When they to the jobs, what to do. They always have a mentor the
can call and talk to me about and so it’s great. – [Nia] So how has you view at
SMU changed as you transition from being a student here
to being a professor. – From a professor, I really
didn’t realize the level of… As a student, I didn’t
understand the silo concept. I didn’t understand the
university system at all because I just came as a student. As a professor, you understand
the university system and you understand that
each of the schools works independently. You understand that there is
a hierarchy inside the schools from a professor perspective. I don’t think it’s bad or
good, but it definitely opened my eyes to how the system works from a university professor perspective. And also, there is a level of
hierarchy within the school, from a faculty to a staff
and even in the faculty to an adjunct professor
or adjunct lecturer to lecturer to professor to full. There’s a true hierarchy there,
and it’s not bad or good, it’s just that I never
would have thought that. I thought all professors were
the same, but they’re not. There are some that just do research and are just on the market
from helping bring grants in and money and coming up
with just state of the art, new solutions for the world to use. And then there are people
who engage with the kids and teach them how to be better students. So it’s a wide variety, so
I was really impressed with the difference in the faculty members. – [Nia] So as a professor now
and do you mostly focus on undergraduate education
or grad school education? – Right now, I would say the
majority is graduate education. I have one undergrad class. I have one hybrid grad
and undergrad class. And then I have two graduate only classes. So I would say majority of
the students I work with are graduate students, but
the majority of students that I mentor, and coach,
and train are undergrad. I have a very systematic goal
that all my undergrad students must have jobs when they
graduate, if they want. – [Nia] Mmhmm. – And so I spend more
time mentoring and helping the undergrads than I do the grads. – [Nia] Okay.
– Because a lot of the grad students are already working, and I help them transition
from one job to another, help them think through how they can get a promotion at work. The undergrads I help
them how to interview, how to go to the job, how
to take the first 30 days, things like that. – [Nia] Mmhmm. So SMU is known as a PWI, a
predominately white institution. – Correct. – [Nia] But I think you mentioned to me before the interview
started that within Lyle and between the undergrad
and graduate programs there are different levels of diversity. – Correct. – [Nia] Could you explain
that a little more? – So the undergrad in the
Lyle School of Engineering is definitely predominantly white. I think it’s shifting here and there, but it’s still predominantly white where, I don’t know the numbers, but definitely. On the graduate level, it’s
predominantly minority. And it’s actually even more
predominantly foreigners. And these are primarily
from the Middle East, they’re from China, they’re from India. And so you have, that’s,
I would say, in my classes in the engineering, probably 75 to 85% are from a different country. At least born in a different country. I don’t know where everybody’s
born, but just looking at it and having the conversations
with the students. And whereas the undergrad is the opposite. – [Nia] Okay. So have you noticed
any differences between teaching a predominantly
white class versus teaching a class of
maybe largely foreigners or largely students of color? – You know, the answer is yes, and I’ll tell you what that… but it’s a different yes.
– [Nia] Okay. – My undergrad students, not
even white, or black, or Asian, or Hispanic, or Middle
Eastern, they are so much more informed and prepared
when I get to grad school. So in my graduate class where
I had a hybrid of undergrads and graduate students, my
undergrad students were just more prepared for the type of
class that I was gonna teach. Whereas my foreign students were not as, they were more technically sharp. They were more, I wanna
say raw intelligence in computer science and engineering, but from a problem solving
and a delivery standpoint, they weren’t at the same level. What I notice with the
predominantly white classes, undergrad, is they were
not afraid to speak up, have conversations, and
really engage with you. And they didn’t have a fear
of getting things wrong, if they didn’t know the answer. If they didn’t know the
answer, the would ask. If they took a guess and it was wrong, they would wanna figure out why. My graduate students who were
more international students, let’s call it international
students instead of foreign. They actually, only a
handful would really engage. Now part of it could be the language. Part of it could be the confidence. Part of if could be just
the culture they came from and who they are. But I do notice that in my
international diverse classes, the students speak up less, and they have a lot more questions, and they have
a lot more challenge-ism. But I attribute that to this
is a major ordeal for them. You know, as far as, I have come over here from a different country
and I need to be successful. Whereas, the undergrads,
this was expected. I mean, you don’t just wake up one morning and decided you’re going to SMU. You’ve been preparing for this. I mean the rigor to get into SMU states that you’re a solid student. You’ve put the work in. You’re gonna do the work
and you’re not afraid. If you got in SMU, you
had multiple options. Whereas, some of the grad
students, they may have had multiple options but they
are here to be successful. – [Nia] Mmhmm. – Not saying the undergrad
aren’t gonna be successful, they expect to be successful. See as an undergrad, you
expect that when you finish you’re gonna get a job. As a grad student, you’re not sure. This is all new to you. – [Nia] Super interesting. So, what do you think,
as someone who is within the STEM field, needs to be
done to increase minority majors into the STEM field. – I think the simplest
thing is working with the junior high and high school students. I volunteer down in Dallas ISD. I volunteer in Richardson
ISD, McKinney ISD and the goal is really,
how do we get more students to embrace the STEM education? The math, the sciences, take
the engineering classes. And that also means we
have to have the teachers in those schools who are
actually strong enough to encourage, and motivate, and train. So it goes back to we’re not
paying teachers well enough. We’re putting them in an environment where learning is tough. Several teachers tell
me, in a 50 minutes class or an hour class, “if I
can get 25% of instructions “without interruptions, I’m doing well.” So part of it is the community
coming in and trying to augment that by helping these students and picking one at a time
and helping that student to realize they can do the STEM world. And then that will lead to more people coming to into college to
be in the STEM programs. – [Nia] So touching back
to STEM programs in college or really like universities
as a whole, what do you think is the benefit of having a
more diverse student body? – Well, it’s called the
diversity of thought. Whenever you have people who
have different experiences, and have different
cultures, and have different life learnings, when you
put those people together you get a different answer. It’s almost like “The Medici Effect.” It’s a book where everybody
comes together at the point of South Africa and all
these boats come through and over time it’s a
multitude of ways of thinking. So, like people think silo and
they can go all the way up, but when you get somebody
different in, it opens up how far you can think and
how much you can think. So I think universities, to
survive, they have to have diverse thinking which means they gotta have diverse students. If you look at corporations
and companies now, especially in the STEM field,
if you get to the core STEM, it’s very diverse. Now, it’s diverse with a lot
of international employees but it’s still very diverse. And so, you need to have that at schools in order for the students
to understand how to work. I think to make them a better employee. – [Nia] And on the faculty
level, how do you think having a diverse faculty will
benefit the students? – I think it’s important
to have a diverse faculty because you will have many students — and this could be white,
black, or it doesn’t matter — that will never have a non-white manager. They may have a woman
manager, and especially in the STEM world, but the
majority of the managers will not be people of color. And so having professors
in that environment, it helps them to understand
that that stereotype, or that bias, or that thinking,
guess what, people of color or minorities actually can
help me and can guide me. So when they go into the working world, they’re not just looking for
someone who is like them. They’ve opened their mind to
saying, okay, wait a minute, this was a pretty solid professor I had or multiple professors. And they’re gonna also learn differently because my experiences as
an African-American male are different from someone
who’s a Chinese-American male. And so, when you can have
those different experiences as a student, then when you
get to the corporate space or even if you go into
research or university, you appreciate those and now
you start looking at people at a more equal level. So I do think it’s very
important even if you have a PWI school, you need to have
a diverse set of professors, especially from an
African-American perspective where we just don’t have them. And it’s not just SMU. It’s just across the board. And part of it is, is
we don’t have that many African-American males or females who have terminal PhD or doctorate degrees. So men and women in the
African-American community go to work. And a lot of it is how you
grew up and your society and can you even afford to go to school to get your doctorate or your PhD. And that’s men and women. – [Nia] So basically, the
picking is a little slimmer? – Oh, it is, it is. I had one university, I
applied and one university, they didn’t offer me a position– they didn’t offer me an interview. And I said, you have zero
African-Americans in your program, in your computer science, how can I not even get an interview? And they came back and
said, well first of all we had 800 applicants and you’re the only African-American who applied. So we only had one to choose from and unfortunately you weren’t
in the top 50 (laughs). And that’s a fair assessment. If they would’ve interviewed
800, if they had 800 applicants and 100 were African-Americans, then it’s a different
conversation, but just one. And then there are schools
who look at your research, and your history, and what you’ve done. And SMU has been great. They always give me an opportunity. They always make sure that I’m welcome. And part of it is is that I
am a really great professor. I received Rotunda Award this year– – [Nia] Yes. Can you tell us a little bit about what that award signifies? – Yeah, that award is… I had no idea. But it’s an award where
your students nominate you, and your students actually
have to write letters about why they think you
should win this award. So that was humbling because
when you have your students who you are really
focused on to nominate you and for you to win that, it means a lot. So that was really exciting for me. But once again, I don’t have… I think SMU definitely can
do better from diversity but they also have to
keep a level of expertise and specialty at the school
because that’s what makes us such a great school. So you can’t hire somebody
because they’re minority, but you do have to look at
people who are minorities and see where can they and if they can
add value that makes sense. – [Nia] So looking towards the future, obviously right now we have slim pickings, but we wanna increase the number
of African-American people, for example, who can be
teaching at universities. What do you think needs
to be done or can be done to get more African-Americans
to be interested in getting their doctorate degree? – I think we have to figure
out ways to set up scholarships and even working scholarships. We gotta work with
corporations to where we have master’s degree students because
a lot of African-Americans get their master’s degrees
who have undergrads. I mean, not like 35%, but
there’s a significant amount. But that jump from getting
your master’s degree to getting your doctorate
is pretty significant. So there needs to be scholarships and there need to be
corporations who encourage it. To me, it has to come
from the corporations. It has to come from the
community, in the sense that we’re gonna invest in more
minorities, African-Americans. And when I say minorities,
I’m speaking mostly of African-Americans, and
I say that because the Chinese or Chinese-American
or Indian or Indian-Americans and these are people who are
from the different countries or are here now, they do
have a tendency to go on and get their terminal degrees. And the African-Americans
and even white Americans in the United States don’t. We don’t do a lot of
doctorate degrees in STEM, as other cultures. But that’s because the
environment to go work in is much more lucrative
and much more beneficial in some aspects depending on
your aspirations, than college. So I think we have to look at
the master’s degree students or even some of the undergrad
students who would be excellent candidates
who would love to teach. You gotta wanna teach. Even not today, but 10
year, 20 years from now, setting the foundation and
helping them with funding for their master’s and motivating
them to get their doctorates. Most companies, I can’t
say, Fortune 500 companies, they will cover your tuition. So it’s a matter of helping those students and helping those companies
to motivate those students to actually get their degrees. And a side note, SMU is
actually working right now with a lot of online,
we have an online MBA, an online cyber security degree, and an online data science master’s. These are all master’s
degrees to where we’re going to go and work with
corporations so that they can get their master’s degrees while online versus coming to class everyday. So that’s something that SMU
is doing to try to attract more people, in general, in the corporate world to get that master’s. And then if we get them in there, we can try to motivate them
to get their doctorate. But it has to come from the corporations and the community has to
help these minority students understand that it’s okay to
get your doctorate degree. And it’s another option
you’ll have in life, later. – [Nia] Interesting. Just curious, are you familiar with the McNair Scholars Program? – I am, I am familiar
with it at a high level. Only reason I say at a high
level because I have to fill out forms for my students who have the McNair scholarship. But that’s about the extent
that I know about it. – [Nia] Okay, okay. Because it is a program that SMU has that, I’m sure you know, encourages
minority or under-represented students to get their– – Correct. – [Nia] doctorate degree
which I just wanted to say for the camera is so cool. But I also wanted to know what has been the highlight of your career
as a professor at SMU? – The highlight is when
students come to me and say, “Professor, I just
rocked and nailed this interview “because of your class.” They basically say, the
things you taught me, the way you taught us, when
I went on this interview and I explained that to
these people interviewing me, he said it was blown away
because they were shocked that I could speak in this
kind of business nomenclature. So I’ve had many students
come to me after interviews and said, “Oh, I know I have
the job because I was able “to communicate with them
what you communicated with us “and speak in their language.” The other part that was
exciting was that when they come to me and they have
these three job offers and they say, “I don’t know what to do.” And we go through the whole list, and we go through the options. What are you looking for? Why are you trying to do it? And they say, “So what should I do?” And I go I can’t give you that answer. That’s your job. That’s your responsibility to chose. I say, but here’s the best part, you’re a great student,
you’re a great person and you have a great
head on your shoulders. You’re gonna be successful
no matter what you do, so you pick the one that
is most comfortable. These aren’t bad options. And so, one student came to me and said, “Do I go to Toyota, do I got to Microsoft, “or do I go to Google?” You look at all the options, and you figure out what’s best for you. And then when they come to me about, “Hey, I made this much money,
or they made me this offer, “what should I do?” I say, “Well, you should counter.” They say, “But it’s a great offer.” “Okay, but always counter.” And so I tell them, I say
and don’t tell them exactly, just ask for a little bit more. And about 50% get a little
bit more, 50% don’t. But it doesn’t hurt to ask. So those are my highlights
is when they can take the knowledge that
I taught them in class and apply it on an interview
and get a position. And they trust me well enough to come back and ask my advice about what job to take. And you gotta understand,
I only known some of these students for three months,
or maybe two months, sometimes just four weeks. Now at the end of the year it’s
easy because they’ve had me for a year but not early in the beginning. So those are highlights of
my teaching concepts here. – [Nia] Wow, it sounds
like you definitely deserve that Rotunda Award. – Ah, thank you.
(laughs) – [Nia] Are there any
professional or personal goals that you have yet to obtain? – You know what, let’s see… Professional goals… I don’t think so. Maybe. I thought about being a
CIO of a company one time. But no, I don’t… I think I am really
comfortable on the path that I’ve taken to get to where I am. And even if I wasn’t, I
still accept where I am. I don’t go back and say, I wish I would’ve done this
or I could’ve done this. That’s not how I function. I enjoy life and so I
do things that I enjoy. And if I don’t enjoy
it, I figure out a way to move on to the next place. I believe in having options in life. So if you have options, you can do that. I call it options makes life easier because options make life
— it makes it easier. And I use the example, if
you have two cars at home and you crash your car and
you just take a Uber home and get the other car and go to work. If you only have one
car and you don’t have the right insurance, you
can’t get a rental car, now you have to take a bus. And taking a bus to work
changes your whole outlook, or taking a train to work. And now you may lose your
job, it can just go downhill. So having options is what
I’ve always looked for, and I have a multitude of options. – [Nia] Is there any words
of advice that you would give to current or incoming
minority students at SMU? – What I would tell an incoming
minority student is focus on the concept that you’re an SMU student and not that you’re a minority student. Continue to work the way
you worked in high school. Don’t be afraid if you
don’t make the highest grade every time because there’s
someone who’s gonna be a little smarter and someone
who’s not gonna be as smart. So focus on being an SMU student. Focus on embracing the SMU
culture and take advantage of it. Don’t be an outsider. You don’t have to stop being who you are but don’t overplay who you
are because you see something. Embrace the SMU student
life and be an SMU student. Because you will always be a minority. And you only get four
years to be an SMU student. That’s what I would tell them. Don’t look out at changing the world. Look at adapting and adjusting and then change it from
within not from without. – [Nia] Mmhmm. So as I begin to wrap up the interview, is there anything that
you feel I may have missed which you would like to further discuss? – Give back. As a minority student, your freshman year, your sophomore year, your
junior year, your senior year, when you graduate. Give back. Go back to the schools where there other minorities and help. Volunteer once a week. If you’re a minority woman, go
find an eighth grader or two. Go to any principal and say, “Hey, I’m here to mentor and to help.” ?Is there anybody who
needs mentoring and help?” and they will give you a list
of a thousand names (laughs). And don’t overdo it. Just go start with two
hours a week giving back. Maybe you do four hours a week. Find a weekend and once a month and go to some event the school is giving. Be seen, be present in your
community just a little bit. And if everyone does that, then
these students have someone that they can see that’s
moving in a direction they wanna see. So give back is the
main thing we have to do in the African-American community. We have to give back. Once again, two hour a
week, four hours a week. It doesn’t matter. One hour a week, just do something. – [Nia] That’s awesome. Thank you so much for your– – No, thank you for inviting me. This has been exciting. – [Nia] Absolutely, it’s been a privilege. – Thank you.

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