Vermont Tech is celebrating Black History Month with the theme of 28 days of Black Excellence. We will be honoring the contributions of Black professionals within each of our Academic Schools. The celebration weeks are:
- Week 1: School of Agriculture, Plant, and Animal Sciences
- Week 2: School of Professional Studies and Management
- Week 3: School of Nursing and Health Professions
- Week 4: School of Engineering and Computing
This Black History project was developed by JWills, who is a third-year student athlete majoring in Business Management and Technology.
Why do we celebrate Black History month and other heritage months? Although we have made progress incorporating more diverse examples of important historical figures into our collective historical narrative, the many achievements and contributions of Black Americans continue to be left out of our nation’s history. So Black History month provides us with an opportunity to reflect on and highlight the achievements of Black Americans while pushing toward the inclusion of Black History all year long.
Week 1: School of Agriculture, Plant, and Animal Sciences
Black Excellence: Assistant Professor Zakiya Leggett
Zakiya Leggett is an assistant professor in the Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources. Leggett earned her Ph.D. in forestry from NC State and currently teaches and conducts research at North Carolina State University. To Learn more about Dr. Zakiya Leggett please visit: NC State Black Excellence
Black Excellence: Henry Blair
Henry Blair was an inventor and farmer best known as the second African American to hold a United States Patent. He patented two devices in the mid 1830’s that boosted agricultural productivity. The first patent was a corn planter. The second planter was for a cotton planter. These designs helped to promote weed control while distributing sees quickly and evenly.
Black Excellence: George Washington Carver
Dr. George Washington Carver was an agricultural scientist, inventor, and educator at Tuskegee University. Dr. Carver developed a crop rotation method that alternated the cotton with legumes to fix nitrogen. This method increased the soil’s productivity and diversified farmers’ produce to sell. Dr. Carver also promoted the practice of using compost to reintroduce nutrients and add organic matter to the soil; a critical practice used in organic farming and gardening today.
Black Excellence: Dr. Booker T. Whatley
Dr. Booker T. Whatley examined efficient farming practices for the small farmer. He is famous for his book, How to Make $100,000 Farming 25 Acres (1987). This book built upon Dr. Carver’s work (Agricultural scientist of a previous generation) of soil regeneration and continues to be a guide for small farmers’ success and sustainability.
Black Excellence: Dr. Alfreda Johnson Webb
Dr. Alfreda Johnson Webb was the first Black woman to graduate from veterinary school and be licensed to practice veterinary medicine in the United States in 1949. Dr. Johnson Webb served as a professor of biology at North Caroline Agricultural and Technical State University and taught anatomy at Tuskegee Institute. Dr. Johnson Web served on the planning committee that founded the School of Veterinary Medicine of North Carolina State University that opened in 1981.
Black Excellence: Dr. Iverson Bell
Dr. Iverson Bell a founding faculty member of the Tuskegee University School of Veterinary Medicine. He served as the first Black vice-president of the American Veterinarian Medical Association. Dr. Iverson Bell was instrumental in promoting Diversity and Inclusion within the Veterinarian field.
Week 2: School of Professional Studies & Management
Black Excellence: Bessie Coleman
Hailing from both African American and Native American descent, Bessie Coleman (1892-1926) was the first female from both ethnic heritages to earn her pilot license. But because there were no aeronautical facilities that would teach minority women to fly in America, Coleman had to earn her license in France, which she did in 1921.
When she returned to the States, she became a celebrity and built her career as an airshow pilot.
Black Excellence: Dean Jones
Dean Jones has over 25 years’ industry experience working as an architectural technologist, building surveyor, and project manager in the offices of architects, engineers, and construction companies. Some of the most significant projects he has worked on include the Palace of Westminister security program, MKU a new university for Milton Keynes, and the Metropolitan Police estate renewal program to name just a few. A fellow of the Chartered Institute of Building, his goal is to be a role model and help give Black employees confidence to bring their true selves to work, celebrate what makes them different and use their voices to inform change.
Black Excellence: Elijah J. McCoy
Elijah J. McCoy (1844 – 1929) was born in Colchester Ontario, Canada, his parents were George and Mildred. His parents were slaves and escaped from Kentucky to Canada with the help of the Underground Railroad. Elijah J. McCoy was an engineer as well as an inventor. At the age of 15 he showed a large interest end mechanics and his parents allowed him to go on an apprenticeship to Scotland. There he received a certification in Mechanical Engineering. It was extremely hard for him to find work in the United States is a Mechanical Engineer, so he started working on the railroads, and Advair is when he created a pattern for Engines in trains. The Invention was a lubricant that spread throughout the whole entire engine to help the train run for extended periods of time without taking positives for maintenance.
Black Excellence: Madam C.J. Walker
Madam C.J. Walker (1867 – 1919) was born as Sarah Breedlove in Delta Louisiana, her parents were Owen and Minerva. They were Louisiana sharecroppers that were born into slavery.
Madam C.J. Walker was the fifth child in her family and was the first one in her family to be born free. Madame C.J. Walker is the first Black woman in America to be a millionaire, she is self-made, and made millions from her hair care products for Black women. Not only did she sell hair care products for Black women, but she also hired Black women. Madame C.J. Walker also gave her money to charity, she used some of her money to fund scholarships for women at Tuskegee and gave money to the NCAACP as well as the YMCA.
Black Excellence: Augustus Jackson
Ice cream innovator Augustus Jackson was born on April 16, 1808, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He began working at the White House in Washington D.C. when he was just nine years old and worked as a chef there for twenty years, from 1817 until 1837. Jackson cooked for Presidents James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, and Andrew Jackson. His presidential food preparation extended from cooking comfort food for the presidents’ families to preparing formal meals at state dinners for visiting dignitaries.
In 1837, Augustus Jackson left Washington D.C. and returned to his hometown of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where he opened his own catering and confectioner business. A savvy businessman, over time Jackson became one of the most successful entrepreneurs in Philadelphia, acquiring his fortune making ice cream. Although ice cream has been around since the 4th century B.C.E. originating from Persia (Iran), Jackson is known for his ice cream making technique and his inventive ice cream recipes.
That innovative ice cream manufacturing technique led to his unprecedented success. Most early ice cream recipes used eggs, but Jackson devised an eggless recipe. He also added salt to the ice, mixing it with his new flavors and cream. The salt made his delicious flavors taste better and lowered the temperature of the ice cream allowing it to be kept colder for a longer time. This helped with packaging and shipping. Jackson’s technique is still used today.
Black Excellence: Ralph Gilles
Ralph Victor Gilles (born January 14, 1970) is an automobile designer and executive. Gilles was the President and CEO of Chrysler’s SRT brand and Senior Vice President of Design at Chrysler before being promoted to Head of Design for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles in April 2015. Following FCA’s merger into the Stellantis group in 2021, he became chief design officer for the newly merged company.
Gilles styled the North American Car of the Year-winning 2005 Chrysler 300 after joining Chrysler in 1992. Gilles also led the design team that created the 2014 SRT Viper.
Week 3: School of Nursing & Health Professions
Black Excellence: Betty Smith Williams
As a leader and trailblazer, Betty Smith Williams was the first African American to graduate from the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing in Cleveland, Ohio, and to teach at a higher education institution in California. From there, she went on to start the National Black Nurses Association in 1971, which is still working to improve healthcare for African-Americans across the country.
Black Excellence: Dan Miller
Founder and CEO Dan Miller of Spora Health launched a primary care network specifically with Black people and people of color in mind. Often times the number of disparities in healthcare that exist for Black people in America can go unaddressed due to a lack of understanding and education among medical professionals. Please read more about Dan Miller and his work to create equitable health systems for Black Americans.
Black Excellence: W.E.B. Du Bois
W.E.B. Du Bois (1868-1963) was not only a famous historian, sociologist, and the first black man to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard, he also made huge impacts on the field of public health. Du Bois and his ethnographic research, featured in The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study and The Souls of Black Folks, were instrumental in highlighting the importance of the social and health consequences of racism and discrimination against African Americans.
Black Excellence: Adah Belle Samuels Thoms
Adah Belle Samuels Thoms, 1870-1943, was a devoted nurse who co-founded the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses and fought for equal employment opportunities for African Americans in the American Red Cross and U.S. Army Nurse Corps. Thoms was also one of the first nurses to be inducted into the American Nurses Association Hall of Fame for her work with civil rights and Black feminist activism.
Week 4: School of Engineering & Computing
Black Excellence: Vermont Tech Alumnus, Koffi Selom Egbeto, EET ’09
One of our very own Vermont Tech Electrical Engineering Technology graduates, Koffi Selom Egboto has demonstrated excellence throughout his career since graduating in 2009. Koffi was an international student from Lomé, Togo, West Africa who not only excelled within his degree program but played on the men’s basketball team. After graduating from VTC, Koffi earned his Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering and Master of Science in Innovation and Technological Entrepreneurship. Since completing his education Koffi currently works at Virginia Commonwealth University as a Technology Commercialization Manager. He manages portfolios of innovative technologies or inventions created by researchers. Koffi credits his time at Vermont Tech as being his first step into the engineering world that has helped him all along his educational and career path.
Black Excellence: Mary Jackson
Thanks to the movie Hidden Figures, NASA’s Mary Jackson is among the most famous software engineers in history. Long a math wiz, She began her aerospace career in 1951 at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, which became NASA in 1958. She worked under Dorothy Vaughaun (also featured in Hidden Figures) in the segregated computing unit until she began working in the 4 foot by 4 foot Supersonic Pressure Tunnel. Her supervisor was so impressed he arranged special authorization for Jackson to study engineering in a previously segregated program.
Black Excellence: Roy Clay, Sr.
Despite Silicon Valley’s lack of diversity, it would be difficult to imagine the tech industry without Roy Clay Sr., penned “The Godfather of Silicon Valley.”
In 1958, Clay received a job at the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory, now known as the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, where he wrote software that demonstrated how radiation particles would spread through the atmosphere after a nuclear explosion.
In 1963, Clay went to work for Control Data Corporation, where he worked on the language FORTRAN. Clay was then hired by David Packard, co-founder of Hewlett-Packard. Packard knew little about software, so Clay became Hewlett-Packard’s software pioneer. Please read more about the life and legacy of Roy Clay, Sr.
Black Excellence: Ursula Burns
Ursula Burns is a mechanical engineer who went on to become the first Black woman CEO to lead a fortune 500 company. Burns rose through the ranks of Xerox and finally become the CEO of Xerox in 2016. She was also appointed by President Barack Obama to lead the White House National STEM program. She has served as the Chair VEON which is the word’s 11th largest Telecome service provider. Please read on to learn more about the professional accomplishments of Ursula Burns.
Black Excellence: Jerry Lawson
Jerry Lawson was a self-taught engineer who became the first major Black video game engineer and designer. Lawson worked as the Chief Hardware Engineer for the company, Fairchild Semiconductor. From there he worked to refine gaming technology and systems such as creating a “joystick” and remining systems that could be stored on removable ROM cartridges. Lawson went on to found Videosoft, a video game development company and made many pioneering advances in the gaming industry.
Black Excellence: April Ericsson
April Ericsson was the first African American woman to receive a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Howard University and the first African American woman to receive a Ph.D. in Engineering at the National Aeronautics and Space administration. In her work with NASA, Ericsson has contributed to creating satellites that monitor the Earth and provides data on various atmospheric phenomena. She has also worked on NASA Robotics groups and the Guidance Navigation and Control working groups. In addition to her work with NASA Ericsson has taught both at Howard University and Bowie State University. Please learn more about April Ericsson and her incredible work in engineering.