I worked as an educator for twenty-five years in NJ until I retired a couple years ago. The entire district in was a low socio-economic community. One of the major complaints teachers made was that parents didn’t care about their kids. Once I became a school disciplinarian, I found that parents felt the same about teachers—they were just there for the paycheck. Imagine that! If one would believe both parents and teachers, then who did care about the kids and why was there this disconnect between parents and teachers?
One thing I could piece together was that the parents were fierce about their children. If their kid didn’t have the correct gear or the child’s cell phone was taken or someone was picking on their child, they were at the school demanding action. So it was not accurate that they didn’t care. They cared; it was just that education was not their number one concern. It was the perceived role of the school in the health, welfare, and rights of their child that was paramount.
Back in 1969, when the University of Chattanooga merged with the University of Tennessee system and became the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC), the school of engineering became the College of Engineering. The college has consistently reflected the changing nature of STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics). Absorbing computer science in the late 1980s, the college morphed into the College of Engineering and Computer Science (CECS). Separate departments gradually emerged: Mechanical and Electrical Engineering, followed by Civil and Chemical Engineering. The UTC Engineering Management and Graduate Programs developed into the Engineering Management and Technology department, and Dr. Ed McMahon became one of its chief innovators.
The International Business Council (IBC) of the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce recently hosted a panel of educators who have much to teach us about globalization. IBC speakers often represent the international businesses that have flocked to this small Southern city. This month’s speakers spoke of how higher education is at the heart of our growing local-global connection. Their new initiatives, and in some cases, still emerging programs, aim to simultaneously bring greater numbers of international students to local campuses while globalizing Chattanooga’s students through study abroad.
Social inequality is systematically destroying the livelihood of many inner city communities. The threat is not only from unemployment, poverty, lack of social services, homelessness and the effects of gangs, violence and drug addiction, but rather it is an underpinning of the very fabric of society.
Young people in the inner city public school system face peer pressure daily, pressure just for speaking proper English, asking questions in class, turning in homework, carrying books to and from school, and studying for tests. When I heard African American students talk about these challenges, I knew right then and there that something had to change in our schools. That’s why I created the Be Brilliant project. A change in our children’s mindset was in order.