What is your personal story and how did you rise within academia and education?
I was born on the island of Trinidad in the West Indies to a single mom who was the second child and eldest girl of 12 kids. My mother left when I was 2 years old in order for us to have a better life by migrating to the US. It wasn't until the age of 10 that I joined her in Queens, NY and began my schooling in 5th grade at PS143, now known as the Louis Armstrong School. As an immigrant to the US and coming from a British system of education, I was made fun of because of my accent and often got spellings of words incorrect. For example, 'color' in the British system is spelled 'colour'. However, when it came to mathematics, there was no difference. I thoroughly enjoyed solving math problems as it gave me a tremendous sense of security. I distinctly remember the principal, coming into my classroom to share that the earth was an Oblate Spheroid. I was confused by his statement and it prompted me to learn more about planets and stars.
I was bussed to my middle school William Cowper JHS 73Q in Maspeth. I experienced quite a bit of racism and discrimination and did not know how to respond. It was there that I met a Ukrainian math teacher who also recently migrated to the US. Mr. Tarasko was my Geometry teacher who took the time to work with me on understanding really important principles. We are friends today and he was largely responsible for my passion for mathematics. I was often the only Black student in my classes and was challenged with being hyper-visible. Mr. Tarasko understood and ultimately became my soccer coach in middle school.
My high school experience was more of the same. I experienced discrimination and racism by students and teachers but understood that it was just part of my lived experience in education. Once again, I was often the only Black student in my classes and had few examples of teachers who looked like me. I started liking mathematics more and more and ended up being selected for advanced math classes and joined the Math Team. I only had one Black teacher during my high school career. Dr. Curtis Simmons was the first Black teacher I ever had here in the US. He taught chemistry and had a PhD in the subject. His presence allowed me to begin to envision myself as a PhD. Because of my academic performance, I was awarded the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) Medal for Mathematics and Science Achievement. However, when it was time to apply for colleges, I was told by my counselor that given my SAT scores, I really should just go to community college. I was in disbelief and was determined to prove her wrong. I began studying and raised by score by close to 400 points, which I was told couldn't be done.
All throughout my academic career, my family valued education and set examples of excellence by praising and celebrating every family member for their academic performance. One of my uncles received a scholarship to study Geodesy in England. All I knew was that it was a subject that had a lot of mathematics and was highly regarded. My first undergraduate institution was RPI and once again the racism and discrimination was overwhelming and led to my departure after the first semester of my sophomore year. I felt school was not for me and decided to earn a living as a telephone technician working for NYNEX in New York City.
Friendships are essential for success. A very good friend from high school encouraged me to re-enroll at a University and complete my degree. It was a time when friends and mentors believed in me more than I believed in myself. I did enroll in the City University of NY as a Pure Math major and was academically successful, was selected for the Mellon Fellowship which led to a research opportunity at the University of Rochester. It was during this research experience which included research in Astrophysics and Computer Science where my path became clear. I learned that I needed to learn mathematics at a high level in order to teach computers how to see and hear objects. This is where I developed the conviction to complete a PhD in Applied Mathematics.
Graduate school in Applied Math was perhaps the most challenging thing that I have ever done. There is no doubt that it was because of the presence of a Black Professor in Applied Mathematics, Professor James Curry, and a few key allies like Helen Hendricks, Harvey Segur, Bengt Fornberg, Anne Dougherty, Jim Meiss and the late Rudy Horne that I was successful in completing my degree.
How can we create millions of more students who can become as successful as you? What has to happen at the K-12 and the college level for this to become reality?
Mentorships are a key component in this chain. Students need to see themselves in the highest levels of success in any and all fields. A great example of where this works well is the Meyerhoff Scholars Program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. This program should serve as a model for K-12 and college education. A key component of this program is the establishment of a cohort of students who take all the same courses at the same time, live together and celebrate successes together. They see themselves in each other and in the mentors who work with them. As a result, this program has produced more MD/PhDs than any other program in the world! In order to achieve this level of excellence, K-12 education is in need of a significant redesign. Every system and process within K-20 suffers from the effects of racial inequality. These processes embody and perpetuate racial inequality and unless they are disrupted and redesigned, the inertia of their coded principles will continue to be perpetuated.
Why is teaching (and/or mentoring young people) the most powerful way to respond to the devastation and destruction of the last year?
See my article from Medium: Teach
What is the most important way the nation and the world needs to change to ensure that all blacks can reach the level of prominence, impact and success that you have?
The world needs to own the effects of the Colonization anchored in a philosophy of dominance of other races and peoples. For example, the long-lasting effects of the Trans-Atlantic slave route on the economies of the British West-Indies has been devastating and impactful today. Apologies and reparations for these quantifiable results could only serve as a starting point to the global conversation.
Dr. Charles is a researcher and Data Scientist who has over 10 years of experience in Telecommunications, Defense and Hi-Tech industries and 20 years in K-12 public education, including 15 years of K-12 Administrative experience developing district STEM Programming. He has a passion for empowering others to learn complex mathematical concepts in order to solve complex problems. As a research scientist in the defense industries he led the design and development of complex Atmospheric Profiling algorithmic efforts for a commercial and defense satellite program. Prior to being a co- founder of Trustify Community Corp., Dr. Charles worked to bring his expertise in Machine Learning to the efficient registration and storage of image datasets using patches. In 2002, Charles was featured in USA Weekend
magazine as one of the African American Entrepreneurs to watch. He subsequently launched Math Learning Institute, a company providing training and student data analytics software products for teachers and STEM professionals. His
experiences also include work as an Adjunct Professor at both the University of Colorado’s and the University of Denver’s Colleges of Education and Engineering & Sciences programs, respectively. Dr. Charles serves as a Reviewer and Researcher in Mathematics and STEM Education for national research publications. He also serves as a Reviewer for world-wide publications on Image and Signal Processing. He has successfully led teams of students and teachers in designing research experiments and solutions for NASA astronauts to be flown on the International Space Station (ISS) as part of a research effort to mitigate problems faced by the ISS crew. He was also named as a Highly Qualified Candidate for the 2012 NASA Astronaut Selection process. As part of his training, Dr. Charles has developed and flown various experiments in microgravity aircrafts using parabolic arcs to simulate weightlessness.
Dr. Charles enjoys spending time with his family, flying small aircrafts, is an avid certified SCUBA diver, multi-instrumentalist and enjoys learning new languages. He is currently serving as the Director of Innovation & Improvement for Denver Public Schools.