Black History Month 2021 Feature: Calvin Mackie, Ph.D.

Calvin Mackie, Ph.D. is the founder of STEM NOLA, a non-profit dedicated to exposing, inspiring, and engaging communities to STEM. His non-profit has engaged over 60,000 K-12 students in STEM through robotics camps and challenges. A native New Orleanian, he taught at Tulane University for 11 years before refocusing his career on entrepreneurship, consulting, and professional speaking. He received his bachelor's degree, master's degree, and a doctorate in Mechanical Engineering at Georgia Tech.

How did you become interested in robotics? When I was nine years old, my uncle bought me an erector set. I built a crane and then a car that ran across the floor. He saw my creations and screamed, "That boy is going to be an engineer!" That was the first time I heard the word and I was convinced that was my destination. From that point, all I did as a kid was take things apart, build things, and sought to understand how and why things worked. I never dreamed of being anything else...except a basketball player.

Who are your mentors? My dad was a skilled roofer and every Saturday and summer I worked with him on the roof. He taught me work ethic and discipline. Entering Moorehouse during a summer camp for incoming freshmen, I met Dean Thomas Blocker. From day one, he referred to me as a doctor and always encouraged me to get a terminal degree. I had no idea what a terminal degree was at the time. At my Ph.D. dissertation defense, I told that story while he sat in the audience! As an undergraduate in engineering school, I met Dr. Carolyn Meyers in a hallway at Georgia Tech. She invited me to tour her lab where I eventually began to do research. From that point, she has mentored me through the Ph.D. and life.

What words of wisdom would you give to robotics students? Stick with it! If it was easy, everyone would be studying STEM and robotics. In the 21st century, the nation will need people who can innovate, create and control automatic machines and robots to perform repetitive and dangerous jobs. The work of getting into and achieving the field is worth it. Your life will never be the same.

The Futurist Alvin Toffler stated, "The illiterate of the 21st century will not be he or she that cannot read or write, but he or she who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn. All of us must become lifelong learners, unlearning and relearning due to the rapid change of technology especially in the area of robotics."

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