Morehouse Musings

Lee Str

No matter how many times I drive it, every time I approach the Lee Street exit on interstate 20, I begin to experience feelings of delightful anticipation and excitement. If my kids are in the car, I’ll probably make some enthusiastic remark like “Kids, this is where it all began” or “So many good memories here”.  Of course, their teenage ears almost never receive those remarks with like enthusiasm.  I usually sigh a little inside, hoping that one day their paths will lead them to 830 Westview Drive and 350 Spelman Lane.  Then we can share a mutual nostalgia, similar to what my Dad and I now enjoy. As I ride down Lee Street these feelings of exhilaration mount, and I’m flooded with memories. Stepping on campus I feel immersed in warmth.  I feel camaraderie.  I feel…home.

No matter how many times I visit, I’m consumed by this ritual of emotions.  Morehouse College is a special place.  Special for an endless list of reasons, some explicit and tangible, others more abstract.  Over the years, I’ve often heard alumni summarize this mystique as “The Black Experience”.  Representatives of the college often espouse this concept as a way to convince prospective students to attend Morehouse.  I’ve also heard detractors counter “I don’t need The Black Experience.  I’m Black.”  In a time where White classmates are calling the police on sleeping Black students at PWI’s, we certainly shouldn’t be underestimating the value of placing a premium on the opportunity to be unapologetically Black.  In a time when Black students at PWI’s are being snatched off the graduation stage for “excessive” celebration, we ought to highlight institutions that recognize the arduous obstacles and near impossible struggles that students have overcome in their relentless pursuit of a better life.  I have a classmate who came to Morehouse by himself because his parents could only afford one plane ticket.  He got to the airport, took the train to West End Station, and walked to campus with his luggage. This student went to class during the day and worked until midnight, after which he would go back to the dorm and study.  He eventually earned a scholarship and graduated with a math degree.  Such a student has every reason to be proud of himself, and a little dancing on stage to culminate his achievements isn’t too much to ask. Places like Morehouse recognize this.  Indeed, the impact of The Black Experience cannot be understated.

There is another aspect of Morehouse that I believe deserves more attention than it is normally afforded. Academic rigor and likelihood for success.  It always baffles me to hear a student or parent dismiss Morehouse (or any HBCU) because they want to have a higher chance of success in life.  Such a perspective is completely at odds with the empirical data.  HBCU graduates account for only 10% of all Black students graduating from college, yet account for 40% of Black professional engineers, 80% of Black judges, and 70% of Black science graduate students at top 10 schools. We can even dig a little deeper.  As a student at Morehouse, I double-majored in Physics and Mathematics, so I conducted a little research relative to Physics and Mathematics degrees conferred at Morehouse and other institutions.  I’ve also compiled statistics nationally.  This year Morehouse awarded degrees to 397 students.  16 of those degrees were in Physics, and 35 were in Mathematics.  So, Physics degrees represented about 4% of all degrees awarded, while Mathematics degrees represented almost 9% of all degrees awarded.  Of course, these figures have no meaning without a benchmark.  If I consider the same statistics nationally, then Physics degrees represent 0.42% of all degrees, and Mathematics degrees represent 1.19%.  This means that Morehouse is producing Physics majors at nearly 10 times the national rate; Math majors at 8 times the national rate.  In fact, not even Harvard and MIT (both top 5 in Physics) are producing Physics and Math graduates at an equivalent rate.

MorehouseStats

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Given the aforementioned statistics, Morehouse graduates (and HBCU graduates in general) are statistically overrepresented in almost every profession, graduate school, and professional school. So, if we’re talking “likelihood”, then a student’s probability of success is increased by choosing to attend Morehouse.  The reasons for this are multifaceted, but overall it’s because the institution as a whole is dedicated to your success, from the cafeteria staff to the professors.  I remember being in Set Theory class with Dr. Gore.  Among his many talents, Dr. Gore possessed the ability to remember all of the students in his classes.  On one occasion I remember him realizing a certain student was not in class.  He asked if any class members knew why the student was absent, and some said he was asleep in his room.  Dr. Gore instructed one of the students in the class to go back to the dorm and bring our classmate to class.  On another occasion Dr. Gore happened to look out of the window and saw a student walking past with a young lady.  He shouted down to the student, “Mr. ______, you were not in class today.  Did you have more important things to do?”  Dr. Gore was also a proud graduate of Morehouse College.  A professor’s desire to see students succeed at Morehouse is often very personal, and it shows.  Of course, you learn quickly not to mistake their love of students for facility of coursework.  They will love you and fail you if necessary.  I had one Differential Equations professor, Dr. Martin, who was notorious for failing students.  There was even a rumor that he failed his wife when she took his class.  On the first day of class, he addressed this rumor saying, “There’s this nasty little rumor going around that I’m so heartless that I failed my own wife.  I never did any such thing.  I NEVER failed my wife.  I failed her brother.”  If you could navigate this type of rigor, you could do so anywhere.

I recently celebrated 20 years since my graduation from Morehouse College, and I attended many of the associated events.  People who came to college as idealistic, sometimes frightened, students were now Teachers, Medical doctors, Ph.D.’s, attorneys, engineers, entrepreneurs, politicians, activists, corporate executives, authors, and everything in between.  It was in the AUC that they were equipped with the skills, confidence, and training to be the best in every endeavor.  I’m so proud of them, and when all my empirical data and research needs a personal anecdotal touch, theirs are the examples I point to.

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Atlanta Students Bring Mars to Earth

by Mark A. Sequeira

 

As part of a group called Aspiration Creation, students from the Dunwoody/Sandy Springs area participated in a project with the European Space Agency (European equivalent to NASA) to take real live images of Mars.  Students were required to submit a proposal to the ESA, identifying the feature they wished to image, as well as detailing how they planned to use the images.  Proposals were accepted from Europe, The United States, Argentina, and Australia.  Theirs was among 25 proposals selected internationally.  Their work culminated in a PowerPoint presentation which was published on the European Space Agency’s website under the subheading “Aspiration Creation”.  Click on the “Project PPT in Website” link under the subheading to view the entire presentation.

 

Animation

Students created this gif by viewing several images sequentially

Background

So how did all of this come about? The European Space Agency has a satellite called Mars Express in orbit around the red planet. The satellite is equipped with a bevy of scientific instruments used to study the Martian surface and atmosphere. Among these instruments is a camera called the Visual Monitoring Camera (VMC). In May the European Space Agency announced that Mars Express would be entering solar conjunction, a period where Earth and Mars are on opposite sides of the Sun. This phenomenon makes it impossible for Mars Express to communicate with Earth, so engineers typically preprogram maintenance and diagnostic routines for the satellite to execute until communication can be reestablished. Additionally, ESA announced that they wanted to utilize this time to make the VMC available for educational purposes. So, they released a Request For Proposals. Groups whose proposals were selected would be allowed to point the satellite at the Martian feature of their choice and image it. In their proposals, students had to identify the feature they wanted to image, support their reasoning, and state how they would use the images for educational purposes. The trick was that there was only a 3 day window for the satellite to take images, so not all features would be visible to the satellite or adequately illuminated by the Sun. To address this issue, the students had to download, learn, and use a solar system simulation software (Celestia) to figure out which features would be good candidates for imaging during the 3 day window. After viewing several possibilities, the group agreed to image the Martian South Pole. Groups from 19 different countries submitted proposals.

 

Celestia

 

Project

Upon having their proposal selected, the group used Google Hangouts to meet with flight control engineers at the ESA to ask questions and discuss the specifics of the imaging process. Mars Express took images for three days and sent the students 750 raw images of the Martian South Pole. Due to low light levels in space, the raw images actually appear black & white. Special image processing techniques must be applied to reveal the true colors. Students watched image processing tutorials offered by the Planetary Society to learn what they needed to know. They downloaded free image processing software (GIMP) and used it to import and process the images. Students learned to view logarithmic histograms of the images to determine the brightness/contrast adjustments, as well as how to apply various digital filters to increase sharpness and improve color levels. Once the images were satisfactory, students researched the south poles of Earth and Mars and created a comparison contrast in the form of a Venn Diagram.  The students have been recognized by the Fulton County Superintendent and the Dekalb County Board of Education.

 

Aspiration Creation

Aspiration Creation began organically as a group of parents who wanted to ensure that their children were maintaining excellence academically. Corporate learning centers like Kumond and Huntington Learning Center are often prohibitively expensive, and private tutors are often more so. Educational investment is highly indicative of future success, so corporate learning centers and private tutors are essentially a means by which parents can buy their children’s success. With so much riding on education, parents believed it should not depend on financial resources. So, they decided to use the resources already at their disposal to offer tutorials for free. The priority is to ensure that students are mastering the material being taught in school, but they are also immersed in mathematics, science, reading, and history via introduction to advanced concepts, critical thinking, comprehension, and art.  There is no charge for participation.  The only requirement is an open mind and a desire to learn.