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  Being a Black Scholar
James West, as told to Hilary Kates Varghese
     Figure 1. Dr. James West outside Johns Hopkins University.
Editor’s Note: This interview is adapted from one given to Acoustics Today intern Hilary Kates Varghese as part of her series that appears on the Acoustics Today website (see After reading the interview, it occurred to us that much of what Dr. West said is very much related to other “Sound Perspectives” essays in this issue about Black scholars in the Acoustical Society
of America and STEM. To see the full interview with Dr. West and learn more about his extraordinary career, please visit our website.
James West (Figure 1), Acoustical Society of America (ASA) president from 1998 to 1999, has had an exciting and important scholarly career. Throughout this career, Dr. West has been an advocate for underrepresented minorities in science and engineering. Among his many honors include the Gold Medal from the ASA, induction into The National Inventors Hall of Fame (see for his invention of the electret microphone, the National Medal of Technology (see; Figure 2) for his technology contributions, and multiple honorary doctorates.
Tell us a little about your career path and journey to where you are now.
I started at AT&T Bell Labs in 1957, an intern in their summer program (see I found Bell Labs to be among the few places that I felt, as a Black male, that I would have a comfortable and prosperous career. I measured and monitored this in terms of the number of underrepresented minorities and women that I saw in roles that I might eventually want to be a part of. I turned down the lower level management opportunities because I did not see a clear ladder of progress in management as a Black male. I remained in the lab and retired in 2001 at the highest rank of nonmanagement, a Bell Labs Fellow. From there, I joined the faculty at Johns Hopkins University (JHU), Baltimore, MD, in 2001, first as a research fellow in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and most recently as a full professor.
I would say I have a profession as well as a strong side interest in improving diversity in the institutions that I’ve joined throughout my life. At Bell Labs, we formed a number of organizations primarily aimed at improving diversity for both women and underrepresented minorities (W&URM). I was instrumental in starting what was called the summer research program that was instituted throughout the operating companies of AT&T. Upward of 3,000 university students received summer internships throughout the AT&T network. This turned out to be a
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     Figure 2. Dr. West receiving the National Medal of Technology from President Bush in 2006.
 80 Acoustics Today • Winter 2020 | Volume 16, issue 4

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