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SISTEM one-on-one with Dr. Kamal Ali, Professor & Chair of the Department of Technology, Jackson State University: "A Look at The Minority Male Makers Program at Jackson State University" - Part 1 of The Minority Male Makers Program ISTG Special Feature.

Kamal Ali

Dr. Kamal education includes a Ph.D. in Solid State Physics from Reading University Reading U.K., 1981, and a M.S.E.in Electrical and Computer Engineering, West Virginia University, Morgantown WV, 1989. His research interests include: Microprocessor/Embedded System, Neural Networks, High frequency RF channel Characterization, the Dependence of Auditory Vigilance on Bandwidth, Heart Rate Variability and High Frequency Acoustics.

Q: Please tell us about yourself, what inspired you to choose your career path and what challenges did you face and overcome?

Ali: I was born in Khartoum Sudan to a Post Master father and a School Teacher mother. I completed my school and university education in Sudan where I graduated from the University of Khartoum with a B.S. in Physics and Mathematics; before joining Reading University, England, where I received my Ph.D. in Solid State Physics in 1980. Three days after defending my Dissertation, I joined the research team of Dr. Art Pavlovic of West Virginia University (WVU) Physics Department. After two years of Post Doc research, I joined WVU as a graduate student pursuing a Masters in Electrical and Computer Engineering. During my tenure at WVU, I taught a number of lectures and labs which quickly allowed me to realize that teaching is my passion. In 1985, I joined The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) Computer Engineering Technology Department where I served as professor for 20 years. While working at USM, I served as Chief Technical Advisor for the United Nations (UNDP) for two years, Professor of Electrical Engineering at the United Arab Emirates University for two years, and as the Director of the Computer Engineering Track of the College of Information Technology again at United Arab Emirates University. In 2005, I joined Jackson State University as a professor of Computer Engineering, and was selected to chair the Industrial Systems and Technology (IS&T) Department in 2013. Today, I split my time between the Electrical and Computer Engineering and the IS&T departments. My current research focuses on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and Visualization.

Q: Tell us about The Minority Male Makers Program at Jackson State University: its scope, implementation and impact on students.

Ali: The Minority Male Maker Program is an effort sponsored by the Telecom Company, Verizon. The goal of the program is to introduce 6th and 7th grade minority students to STEM. The program starts with a 4 week summer workshop that takes place at Jackson State University. The program has two main components, 3-D Printing and App Development. Included in the 3-D Printing component, students are introduced to Solid Works, where they design and print an object of their choice. In the App development component, students use an Android platform and build an App that addresses a problem within their community. During the program, students are divided into two teams. Each team works on one of the two components in the morning session and alternate for the afternoon session. Although the aforementioned are the main components of the program, the students participate in a variety of activities. Of these activities, were visits to various labs where the students perform introductory experiments, or supervised group discussions on STEM areas.Upon completion of the summer program, the student participants are inducted into the National Society of Black Engineers,Junior (NSBE Jr.) During the Fall and Spring semesters, these students will meet at Jackson State University one Saturday a month and engage in intensive, multi-disciplinary approach to STEM learning. Each Saturday is devoted to a different STEM field. The Minority Male Maker Program launched this summer with 29 student participants and available data demonstrates the benefit from the activities of this program. The Minority Male Maker Program targeted only one middle school in Jackson Mississippi, (Blackburn Middle School). Next summer, this program will be open to other schools in the Jackson, Mississippi area.

The cost of running this program for the first two years is about $300K.

Q: In your experience, what are the ingredients for a successful STEM outreach program for underrepresented middle and high school students?

Ali: I truly believe that if one has a strong Algebra foundation, then one will be successful in any field they choose. Depending on the school district, Algebra is taught in the 6th or 7th grade. Therefore, a good outreach program should first and foremost target the Algebra course in the middle school and make sure that it is successful. You do this by making sure that the Algebra teachers are highly qualified and are passionate in their delivery of the material and that the class size is small. Once students have a solid mathematics background, then any program that will expose students to the different areas of STEM will be a success. For example, a National Science Foundation funded program in Houston, Texas started by re-training the 6th grade Algebra teachers changed the high school graduation rate from 60% to over 90%.The two main ingredients of the successful outreach program are: (1) Make sure the Mathematics background is SOLID; and (2) Give them exposure to the various STEM fields so they can make an informed decision.

Q: In your estimation, what are the critical steps educational policymakers should undertake to bridge the scientific and technological gap in America and to increase the number of African-Americans, Latinos and Native Americans in STEM studies, careers and businesses?

Ali: Recruit and retain highly skilled Mathematics teachers for Middle and High Schools, ensure reasonable class size, and support programs that expose students the different areas of STEM; all of which requires strong financial commitment.

Q: What advice would you give young African-American, Latino and Native American students in high school or college who are trying to decide on whether or not to pursue a career in STEM or STEM related fields (such as business, economics, or medicine, for instance)?

Ali: Do not shy away from Mathematics. The way to improve your understanding of Mathematics is by solving more problems. Take your tough Math courses like Pre-Algebra and Trigonometry, and work to attain a solid AP Calculus score, while in high school, and you will be successful in any field you choose in college.

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