By Maren Carter
Kanton Reynolds, a faculty member at NC State since 2017, teaches the honors seminar course, HON 293: Technologists of Color/STEM Applications & Innovations in Emerging Societies, where he encourages students in the University Honors and Scholars Program to gain a greater understanding and appreciation for the “scientists of color [who] have made significant contributions to the evolution of our technology and infrastructure.”
When asked what he wants students to take away from his course, Reynolds replied that he wants “students to be able to visualize and articulate the impact that scientists and technologists of color have had as a way of further espousing and disseminating their contributions to innovation. Depending on the student’s position, they can leverage this knowledge and envision themselves as potentially occupying this space through the motivation and inspiration provided by these role models or alternatively by serving as an advocate for, or ally to, future generations of minority scientists and technologists.”
A 1995 graduate of NC State, Reynolds said he rarely had a professor who looked like him. He went on to say, “I certainly had very few role models or mentors that reflected my cultural heritage. In addition, the few scientists or engineers of color that were deemed noteworthy were not honored in any significant way outside of February for Black History Month.”
Reynolds shared the significance of meeting Charles Frank Bolden Jr., a former astronaut and administrator at NASA, in fall 2019 at the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation event on campus, saying “you have no idea how exciting it was for me.” Both Reynolds and Bolden are from Columbia, South Carolina, and Bolden went to school 15 minutes from Reynolds’ home.
“I know his story because of where I grew up, but I bet the vast majority of students can only talk about Ronald McNair (who is also from South Carolina and died tragically in the Challenger Space Shuttle accident) as the only African-American Astronaut they can name,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds is an engineer by trade and received his B.S. in industrial engineering from NC State and M.S. in industrial engineering from North Carolina A&T State University. He spent two summers in Malawi, once in 2011 as a part of a study abroad program connected to a Ph.D. course of study at NC A&T and once in 2013 as an intern at the US Embassy. In 2014, Reynolds spent the summer at The Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia, where he worked to conduct human rights research and monitored compliance with United Nations treaties and their Democracy Program.
Reynolds teaches courses in the College of Engineering here at NC State, but also instructs classes in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences as part of the Africana Studies program, teaching AFS 344: Leadership in African American Communities. In comparison to the courses he teaches, Reynolds says that HON 293 is “probably right in the middle.”
“It has more technical content than an Africana Studies course, but less than a typical Engineering class,” he said. “We look at things like how sustainable energy practices are implemented in these developing and primarily agrarian countries, so students will need to know how the technology works, but not to the extent that they would have to design a solar array or a hydraulic turbine for a hydroelectric generator.”
Reynolds selected the supplemental course material for his honors seminar from conferences where he has met particular scholars and been exposed to their work in this area, threads from his research as a Ph.D. student that were tangential to but not directly related to his dissertation, and his exposure to a wide variety of innovations as part of his research and work globally. During the two summers he spent in Malawi as a US Department of State graduate intern at the US Embassy in Lilongwe, Reynolds had access to events like the Southern African Development Community Annual Summit, an inter-governmental cooperation between 16 African countries that encourages economic and political partnership. He says the experience “influences my approach to the course in so much, that I can share stories and anecdotes about my experiences to frame the subject matter.”
“I love being a part of the Honors and Scholars Program because the students are intrinsically driven and motivated,” Reynolds said. “They want to dig deeper, and they are highly independent thinkers and researchers. They understand that sometimes you have to do more than what is required in class to truly evaluate competing perspectives on various subject matters. They have a chance to look at topics from an interdisciplinary perspective and frame their opinions in a way that connects to their formal course of study.”
The first time Reynolds taught HON 293, he said that the UHSP provided resources that are not generally available in other spaces on campus. For example, the UHSP allowed him to bring longtime NASA engineer [and] mathematician Christine Darden to campus, who was prominently featured in Hidden Figures in Chapter 15 of the book.
“We also collaborated with the African American Cultural Center to screen the movie Hidden Figures and for [Christine Darden] to give remarks afterward,” Reynolds said. “For students to hear her story first-hand and have the chance to spend time with her in a classroom setting humanizes the struggle she endured as a black, female scientist.”
Reynolds recently received The Most Supportive Faculty Award from the College of Engineering in May, which recognizes an inspirational faculty member that, through their actions and contributions, helped recruit, develop, and uplift women and under-represented students to excel academically and professionally. Students in the Honors and Scholars program can take Reynolds’ honors seminar, Technologists of Color/STEM Applications & Innovations in Emerging Societies, in the fall.
This post was originally published in DASA.