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very significant program because many W&URM found out what careers in industry were all about.
We formed an offshoot to that program called the corporate research fellowship program that paid for and mentored roughly 600 successful W&URM as PhDs. The attrition rate was better than any school in the country, mainly due to our ability in matching mentors and students.
What inspired you to run for Acoustical Society of America president?
The short answer to that question is that it was suggested, and I was nominated by a number of people in the Society who asked me to run. But let me capitulate a bit. I was a member of many societies and technical organizations where I gave talks early in my career as I looked for the best home for the direction in technology that I was taking. The ASA turned out to be the most welcoming of all the others. Of course, when I say welcoming, my colleagues at Bell Labs were always there so there was that level of comfort, but at meetings, you don’t make progress unless you talk to people outside your circles. I found that the ASA was open: people talked to me, discussed their work, and accepted me as a normal person, not one of a particular class. This was very interesting to me. I saw this as a Society I could probably work for, so I joined a couple of technical committees that I eventually chaired (e.g., Engineering Acoustics).
The opportunity to feel the freedom and feel accepted was very important, and it was very much a part of the reason the ASA became my home. For example, in pointing out the lack of diversity in both W&URM in the Society, we pushed through several fellowships. The one for underrepresented minorities is now named for me (e.g., see essay by Scott on page 77 ). Women have made tremendous progress. They make up about 50% of the population nationally but only represent about 15% of the workforce. So there is still a lot of work to do there. Underrepresented minorities are even worse off. They make up roughly 25% of the population but less than 5% of the workforce. (For more information, see With all that we are doing, it’s really a penance to what is necessary and needs to be done.
The reason I talk about all of this is because the ASA had open minds to this kind of thinking and valued the things I valued. By being president of the ASA, I had the opportunity and full-fledged support to advance these ideas further.
What was the biggest challenge you have faced in your career? And as Acoustical Society of America president?
In life, racism was my biggest obstacle. I always felt like if I was white, would I have had a better life? I don’t know because I really do have fun. But I had to pay attention to things that more directly affected me than others. For example, I got an email from a colleague a few days ago that said basically I wish I hadn’t accused you of conspiracy theory as much as I did. We used to have lunch together and talk about the disparities between the races, and now he finally understood why I was so upset by getting continuously stopped by police on my way to work through an all-white community.
Now more people understand why the fear is there. I’ve feared police all my life; they were not there to protect me, they were there to kill me. This is what I was taught in order to survive. That outlook hasn’t changed for any Black person. There was always a lot going on in my life, but when you worry about a big problem, the little ones get flushed and you don’t see them as clearly. A concern of safety was always foremost in my mind.
In what productive ways do you think Acoustical Society of America members can contribute to the current human rights movement?
My mother was one of the Hidden Figures (see, a human computer. She is mentioned a number of times in the book. She went from teaching math in high school to working at Langley Research Center and was also an active officer in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). This role eventually got her fired from Langley because Senator McCarthy viewed the NAACP as an adverse and communist organization. This really ended my mother’s productive life; she couldn’t get over it. So the topics of systemic racism and the increase in and acceptance of diversity have always been at the forefront of my mind. I’ve been involved in this sort of work for over 20 years. Let me tell you what I am doing that may work for you.
I joined the board of a program in Baltimore called the Ingenuity Project (see The program serves Baltimore City Public Schools but really focuses on and nurtures students in the Advanced Placement (AP) program. When I joined the board six to seven years ago, the program was 90% white and 90%
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