“Don’t be afraid to dream and to go after your dreams,” Jason Kentrell Smith urged high-schoolers at The University of Tennessee Space Institute’s recent “Black History Celebration Program.”
The former University of the South star basketball player recalled his own fears when he enrolled at Sewanee as well as valuable lessons learned as a minority student there.
“College is so different than high school,” Smith said. “I had never read much, and the first day they were asking me about the first verses of Hamlett.” Sewanee helped him “grow and mature,” he said. “We were free to go to class or to go partying, but I learned you’ve got to pay for the decisions you make – that you have to be responsible for yourself. What you do will come back to get you.”
He learned to “adapt to a different environment, how to be professional, how to be more tolerant of those who are different – I learned from others.”
While at Sewanee, the Shelbyville native interned with Systems Integration/Modeling and Simulation (SIM&S) and now works for SIM&S as computer technician at Fort Campbell, Ky. He was introduced by Eugene London, the Tullahoma firm’s president and chief executive officer.
Patricia Burks-Jelks, director of Human Resources, Affirmative Action, and Services at UTSI and advisor to the Space Institute’s National Society for Black Engineers (NSBE) chapter, presided.
In welcoming comments, John E. Caruthers said such “Black History” observances are not just beneficial for African-Americans.
“I’m white, and I make decisions that affect others; I need to know this history, too,” said Caruthers, UT associate vice president and chief operating officer of UTSI. He spoke of the positive influence in the mid-state area of “black churches and deeply talented, deeply spiritual” African-Americans friends.
Caruthers, who is retiring June 30, noted that this was his fifth year to participate in the Black History program and, since he plans to relocate, his last time to take part on the program. He promised to strongly recommend that the annual celebration continue at UTSI. Normally, the program is held during February.
Two graduate students, Jane Iwuchuikwu and Catherine Kelly, presented awards to three winners of an essay contest: Robert Vanzant of Franklin County High School (FCHS), and Phillip Campbell and Taylor Lusk of Tullahoma High School (THS). UTSI’s NSBE Chapter sponsors junior chapters at FCHS and THS.
K.C. Reddy, UT assistant vice president and acting UTSI Dean for Academic Affairs, commented on the Space Institute’s diversity, noting that he is a native of India, Caruthers is from Alabama, Miss Iwuchukwu, is from Africa, and “our founder, B.H. Goethert, was from Germany.” Diversity has been a feature of UTSI “during the 40 years I have been here,” Reddy said.
Noting that some of the high school students present might attend UTSI and become scientists, he observed that “science is not interested in nationalities or whether you are rich or poor.”
The program included readings by Jessica Morgan and Karl Rogers of THS and performances by the Alpha Omega Mime and Dance Team from FCHS.
Frank Brown Jr., a member of this team, offered a prayer at the start of the program. A reception was held afterward in the lobby.