Mentor Dr. Joe – Working to Inspire More African-American Ph.D.’s in Computer Science!

Dr. Joe is in his second year as a mentor with Higher Achievement at our Hill District Achievement Center in Pittsburgh, PA. He provides his own seminar – Introduction to Electronics, Robotics, and Computer Science – to our scholars, and can be seen lugging his cart full of electronic equipment to allow our scholars to “play” with these concepts. Dr. Joe believes that he will be able to inspire the next generation of STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) experts as he allows them to play and explore their interests. Mentoring gives him the opportunity to be an expert guide in allowing the scholars to ask themselves, “I wonder what would happen if I try this?” so their curiosity can spark an interest in the field.

Dr. Joe is the epitome of a “pay it forward” approach to mentoring. He fell in love with electronics as an 8-year-old because his uncle allowed him to try out his ideas on electronic equipment under a watchful eye. From there, he majored in math as an undergraduate and went on to get a Ph.D. in computer science. His passion for exposing his field to African-American students arose in 1990 when he read an article that said there were no African-Americans with doctorate degrees in computer science. With his uncle’s example to show him the way, he committed to doing all he could to make a difference and provide opportunity.

And that is why Higher Achievement’s scholars – Nasere and Zemira – benefit from his patient, committed exposure to the field today. Dr. Joe says he feels great when he sees his scholars’ eyes get “big as saucers” when they realize they have learned something previously unknown. Dr. Joe finds this style of learning particularly effective because it’s not just classroom time – it’s exposure and play. He says that, “It’s in the play that discovery occurs”.

So, what’s the payoff for Dr. Joe?

“I’m changing their lives. Some day, they will be able to accomplish something they couldn’t have done if I hadn’t taken the time to spend with them. I’ll never know whose lives I’ve really changed, and I may be long dead by the time it happens. That’s the real value to me – passing on what my uncle did for me, and it’s a good feeling. Teaching is what I do. I can’t help it. It’s about making the world a better place. A mitzvah. If you can just save one person at a time, you are doing a good thing.”

Thank you, Dr. Joe, and all the mentors who pay it forward like you!

If you want to share your passion for learning with our scholars – volunteer this spring!