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of those were white males. In vetting me for the board, I said, “this statistic is very unsatisfactory as it does not represent the demographics of the city of Baltimore. As a heads up, if you put me on the board, I’m going to change the way things are.” They put me on the board anyway and without changing the requirements of the program, it is now about 80% W&URM and 70% of those are women. So, the complexion of that program has changed. What makes this so significant is that Hopkins is very selective of accepted students. Last year, seven students from the Ingenuity Project were offered a place; five accepted and two got better offers from schools elsewhere.
To make a long story short, the funnel was empty, and the funnel needs to be filled, at least partially, with qualified W&URM people that want to enter STEM. If you can increase and open that pipeline that will only bring positive change. How can you help? Find and mentor qualified W&URM students in your local area and improve their training so that they have the opportunity and potential for a future in STEM.
The Acoustical Society of America is constantly growing and evolving. How has it improved and changed since you were president?
I was the only Black active member of the Society for a very long time. There were also only a few women scattered throughout the organization. We have now had a number of women presidents and officers, underrepresented minority presidents and officers, and committees and parts of the Society that are populated and controlled by women. As much as things have changed, as much they still need to change.
How do we do this? Well, I think why we were able to change the ranks in the Ingenuity Project so easily was because we gave the students examples of successful W&URM in many important careers in and around Baltimore and Washington, DC. The ASA can do this too: provide role models and successful examples of W&URM in acoustics.
What attributes about yourself have helped or hindered you in your career?
My race hindered my advancement in industry; all of the examples I’ve shared before modulate that. I think that if I were white, I would have had a totally different career. I’m not saying it would have been better or that I would have been more satisfied. But I’m an extremely
competitive person, and mobility is very important. I probably would have enjoyed the opportunity to see where things could have led.
What is one work hack that you learned
or found over your career and would recommend to others?
I think the important thing for women and minorities is to stand up for your rights no matter the stakes or what you think the consequences might be. This is the way I maintain my sanity. If I let things build up, then I really want to go out and hurt somebody. Have I suffered from that? Yes. Have I prospered from that? Yes. So it’s a tradeoff.
What advice would you give to a young Acoustical Society of America member
about getting involved in professional groups, such as the Society, and the role these professional organizations may have on their lives?
Professional organizations are very important to your survival in STEM. It improves your quality of life, provides opportunities to get your personal work out, and does wonders for your career. When I look at my career path and what I was able to accomplish, I believe my activity in all of the societies I participated in was very fundamental in advancing my career. It is extra work, beyond a doubt, and it may drive you nuts at times, but the benefits are definitely there.
Selected Publications by James West
Busch-Vishniac, I., and West, J. E. (2007). Acoustics courses at the undergraduate level: How can we attract more students? Acoustics Today 3(2), 28-36.
Orellana, D., Busch-Vishniac, I., and West, J. E. (2007). Noise in the Adult Emergency Department of Johns Hopkins Hospital. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 121(4), 1996-1999.
Sessler, G. M., and West, J. E. (1966). Foil electret microphones. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 40(6), 1433-1440.
West, J. E. (1991). A third of a century working with Gerhard Sessler. IEEE Transactions on Electrical Insulation 26, 15-17.
 Contact Information
James West
Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering Johns Hopkins University
Baltimore, Maryland, 21218, USA
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