Thank you for joining us today and welcome to our seminar in the Journey to Science series at Onondaga Community College. This series is sponsored by the Bridges to Baccalaureate grant and we will host a total of six speakers this semester in STEM and STEM-related fields Today we’re welcoming one of our own: Calvin Prothro, OCC’s CSTEP director and professor of physical sciences. Calvin, thank you for sharing your time and your journey with us today. As we’re listening, if you’re live, at the end there we will be some time to ask Calvin some questions so at the top of your screen you should see a little Q&A speech bubble button so at any time feel free to click that, type in your questions and at the end I will ask some of those questions of Calvin. Now, without further ado I want to introduce Calvin Prothro Hi everybody, thank you for having me. I’m glad to be here and I hope I can enlighten you on my pathway to my current position in science. First of all I just want to say where I grew up and what my early childhood was like. I grew up in excuse me a second, knocked over something. My early childhood I grew up in New York City, in Manhattan, in Harlem uh during the early 70s through the 70s through the 80s My father was a longshoreman worked with his hands in the old days before container ships, where you unloaded boxes and containers, you know with your bare hands. Uh my mother was a stay-at-home mom and I grew up in the age of the tail end of the Vietnam war and with civil unrest and I got my start into science because of my older brothers They had to watch their younger sibling and it was the era of Star Trek so they would sit me in front of the TV with them to watch Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner in the original Star Trek series, and that was my first introduction to science, was through science fiction. And I started liking science fiction and then there was “2001: A Space Odyssey” and then all through the 70s there was a number of named science fiction “Star Wars”, the first “Star Wars” movie, first “Alien” movie, but I gravitated towards that because I saw a world that was a lot different than the world outside of my front door. Um I wasn’t a very great student in elementary school, but um my teachers liked me. I had issues in elementary school, I didn’t quite fit in, because I was that kind of kid that loved science fiction, uh and so I, you know, I didn’t hang out a lot in the street. I played games with friends, you know, we’d go and play stickball baseball or played a game called Lodi ,was played in the middle of the street with the cars going by um and you just yell “CAR” and everybody would get out of the way. Um but As I as I was getting through elementary school and going into junior high school the teachers at my elementary school directed my parents to send me to what today would be a charter school, but back in the mid 70s it was a a revolutionary type of school. It was a little low key it focused more on student development than the traditional high schools or traditional junior high schools and I got a lot of more personalized attention There were people there who are more of mentors than teachers and the students had a lot to say about the courses that they took, which was a lot different than most of the other public schools So we you know as a group of students, if we had an interest could bring a proposition to a teacher and ask for an elective course in a certain thing and if they were interested they would do it So I got to have courses in like mythology and um global history and then we would have electives and things like D&D, uh yes dungeons and dragons, we had enough students back then to actually get in a little elective course in dungeons and dragons uh and they would talk they would teach us you know in the course. It would be it would the teacher would demonstrate the difference between magic and science uh and put in a little

world history and a little geography and a little science into the D&D program, but after when I was in junior high school my father passed away, which was a big blow and it took a a big toll on me and when I was going to go to high school I picked a technical high school to go to um, because I thought you know I liked science, liked technology. I wasn’t going to get into one of the specialized science schools in New York City like Stuyvesant or Bronx Science my grades weren’t that good, but I wanted to do something with space, with aircraft, with planes. So I was going to go to a technical high school and two of my teachers convinced me and my mother otherwise so I went to Seward park high school in lower Manhattan and the reason I mentioned the name of the high school is because it is on the border between Chinatown and little Italy and growing up in Harlem I was not really exposed to a lot of different cultures and a lot of different people. Nowadays if you go to where I lived in Harlem it’s been gentrified, there’s a lot of Caucasians living there but when I grew up there there were no Caucasians There were a handful of Hispanics and probably two Asian families in the entire area. My junior high school was in midtown Manhattan and I got to be exposed to a lot of different cultures, there were a lot more Asians a lot more Caucasians there were Jewish kids, you know we all got to get together and got along really well and my high school was really diverse. There were kids from from low economic levels to high economic levels, there were a couple of kids whose whose families worked at the UN uh as ambassadors, or in the diplomatic staff there, and there were kids who were poorer than I was, but there were you know Asians who were new immigrants, there were uh people from Central and South America, from the Caribbean and we all got along. There wasn’t any conflict and I got exposed to those cultures. I was, I actually joined the Chinese culture club when I was in uh and high school just because it was just interesting and fascinating, uh and I also joined the fencing team. I was not a sports person, but I like to play sports and that was a way of playing a team sport but being still an individual And I concentrated in earth sciences, I wanted to be an astronomer, but my math skills were lacking. I was a horrible math student and I like as I like to tell my students at OCC is that I took every math course I took from high school through college at least twice and took calc one three times before I got through it, but i got through it. That was the point, but um to continue on in my senior of high school my mother had a stroke and was not doing very well and I applied to a whole bunch of colleges. I was kind of “all right, yeah I’m gonna get into college, maybe.” I didn’t think of myself as college material. Like I said, I wasn’t the greatest student and I was motivated but I wasn’t driven and I applied to 12 colleges and to my amazement I got into 11 of them, and the college I decided to go to is SUNY Geneseo. And I had done a lot of other stuff in in high school, I worked in the school library part-time uh doing like service in the library, I was on the school fencing team, I was on the consultative council I because of my guidance counselor, a man who I really think to this day, who’s passed away now, named Harold Pocharus, uh he pointed me in the right direction. He said “maybe you should do this” and he got me into weekend programs through the urban league taking college prep courses to practice for the SATs and practice resume writing and public speaking, and all these other activities that got me college ready And I went off to Geneseo and the one thing I remember most about

my last year in high school was my graduation, because, like I said, my mother had had a stroke and it took place about two weeks before graduation and she was in the hospital and my older brothers and were out doing their thing living their lives and they weren’t home with me, and it was just me and my mother. And I remember going to graduation and sitting at my high school graduation in the front row, because i was getting awards at graduation, uh service awards and things like that, and there was no one from my family in my at my graduation it was just me and I went up on stage and I got my awards and everything and then afterwards people with their families taking pictures and you know people my friends they asked me if I wanted to go out you know to eat with their families and stuff, and i just didn’t want to. So I left my graduation after graduation ceremonies and went to see my mother and got ready to go to Geneseo and I took my mother to my aunt’s house and went to Geneseo and and then that’s when I really got into science Um Geneseo was a culture shock. Back in the mid 80s it was a smaller campus than it is now, it was predominantly Caucasian, there was probably 10 to 15 I would say people of color on campus, so it wasn’t a very diverse community, but it was a friendly community. It wasn’t any issues and it was just a strange environment there was nothing there, the town literally went to sleep at night when the college students weren’t going out and going to the bars, and as I said I wanted to study science, but my math wasn’t that good and I settled on geology and I remember how I actually got introduced to the geology program It was one of my professors and I was in an introductory geology course and he asked, we’re in this big auditorium and the lecture hall, and he asked “who in here wants to be a geology major?” and I raised my hand and he pointed at me and he says “you are in the wrong class, come see me,. So we, I went and talked to him and he introduced me to the geology club, which was cool, uh they were just a group of students who were interested in geology or geology majors and the first day they took me up to the bar, back when the drinking age was 18, and that’s how I got my first introduction to geology. They were they were laid back they weren’t they were cool, uh they were smart and friendly and outgoing, and if any of you have taken geology courses you know all of your geology professors are kind of this kind of laid back, you know, this this thing isn’t uh really suited for us, but uh and I took up my geology courses and struggled with them There were lots of times I went into classes at Geneseo I was the only person of color. I remember going into my introductory physics course and there’s probably 75-80 students in the course and I was the only person of color, but you know you dealt with it. The goal of getting my degree was what I wanted, and I wanted to be a geologist, and I struggled through a lot of classes. I remember one day uh I was had taken a bunch of tests that week and I felt really good about the test. I had studied for them and I crashed and burned on all of them and I was just like “enough of this, why am i putting myself through this?” So i got on the bus, went to Rochester airport, stood in line to get a plane ticket back to New York City and three people from the counter I realized that I had nothing willing to go back to. There was nothing in New York for me, you know my mother was by then living with my grandmother in South Carolina, my brothers were off doing their own lives, my friends were starting to drift away, because the ones that didn’t go to college were starting doing their own thing, working in the city and the ones that went off to college we kind of lost touch, because they got busy at colleges, like I was. So I went back, got another bus, went back to Geneseo and kept going and I made it to graduation,

you know with the help of my professors, with the help of tutors, with the help of friends, uh a number of close friends that really were there for me when I was down and almost out, and I remember when I graduated Geneseo uh my department chair uh came up to me and me and the other person was graduating and showed us this letter that the school and the department had gotten from New York state congratulating them, because the department had achieved a great status. They had graduated in their graduating class 50 women and 50 minorities because in May of that year there were only two geology graduates: me and a young lady. So they had the school the state looked at the statistics and didn’t look at the numbers, so that tells you something about making sure you actually look at the numbers and not look at the statistics. But I had gotten into uh Binghamton University for graduate school and I had gotten a summer job uh working in Rochester, was my first environmental consulting job at H&A in Rochester and I remember how I got that job. One of my my faculty advisor had who knew I was graduating and I was going to be looking for a job and one of the Geneseo alumni was actually a number of the Geneseo alumni were working at H&A in Rochester and they had a large project and they were looking for field techs. And of course you when you’re in the consulting business you tend to contact your alma mater to find out if there’s anybody looking for a job from your department, if you you know appreciated your alma mater like a lot of Geneseo graduates do. And so he told me about it, I went and I called the guy and I talked to him for about I don’t know 15-20 minutes on the phone downstairs in the science building, and I hung up the phone and I went up, I went to the bathroom, then I went upstairs and as I was going into his office to tell him I’d had this interview, he was coming out of his office, because the gentleman at H&A had called him to ask about me Uh needless to say I did get the job for the summer, I got my first car that, last year was actually kind of a whirlwind. Growing up in New York City I did not know how to drive a vehicle. I got my driver’s license uh in March of ’89, I got my first vehicle at the middle of April of ’89, and i graduated Geneseo and got my first real job uh a week after graduation. So it was that kind of whirlwind thing, you know learning to drive, getting the first vehicle, graduating college, starting your first real professional job, and it was a great experience. It got me my 40 hour HAZWOPER training which is a cool thing you need to do in your environmental work, and that actually opened the door for me, because when you up when you are in the environmental world and you’re just starting out one of the things you have to do if you’re going to be doing field work is be 40-hour training and that’s usually a big outlay for companies and I got this for a summer job. it was great but I learned a lot I learned you know working, being professional, field techniques, a whole bunch of things and then I went to graduate school at Binghamton and that was really cool too. I met a number of really close people there and the program there was awesome. I got a a degree in geography because I like geomorphology, which is the study of the shape of the land surface, and there were two well-known geomorphologists working there at the time: Don Coates and Marie Maurisala And Don, was retired, Marie was just about being retired, but I got to to get them as advisors and and I took classes with Marie and it was a really great experience Um during my time at Binghamton I met my future spouse and we, after graduation, we moved to New Jersey and I got a job at a consulting firm in New Jersey and started doing environmental consulting And environmental consulting when you’re young and right out of school is really cool, there’s a lot

of travel, there’s you know staying in hotels and doing stuff, but as you advance along your career, and I worked for a couple of different firms in New Jersey who are based in New Jersey and it starts to get old after a while staying in hotels. A lot of the science becomes canned, after a while it becomes almost rote. You have a project back in the 90s there was a program to change to change out all the underground storage tanks in the United States by the federal government so it was a boom time for environmental consultants So it was everything was really you know the same kind of cookie cutter type of project, unless you got something that was really unique and I did have some unique projects. I worked on the New Jersey turnpike widening project uh down by exit 14 by Newark airport, in the Ironbound section of Newark, if any of you know where that is. Um I’ve worked out in Pennsylvania worked in West Virginia, I’ve done projects down in Florida, I’ve been in Connecticut, New York state uh and then eventually after you know doing a number of these projects you start to move up and you start to need to get professional licenses So I took the licensing exam for being a licensed geologist in Pennsylvania and like a licensed engineer there’s normally two parts. One you take when you get out of school and then one you take after you’ve worked for about five years in the field. Well, I never took the first part when you’re right out of school and I took the both parts together at one day So i went out to Harrisburg, I stayed with uh some friends from graduate school who were living and working in Harrisburg and I sat down for this exam that I had studied for. I really did study for it and it was a killer exam, you know I’ve been out of school for almost 10 years and it was a nightmare exam. The first half was basically all the stuff you learned in school, that’s why they want you to take the exam when you’re right out of school, and the second part is all the stuff you learned when you were consulting: state regulations, federal regulations, uh best practices things like that And there were people there taking the exam for the second and third time, which was not a good sign for me, because I walked into that first part and I’m like “okay, this was not good” and then I broke we broke for lunch and coming back was talking to people, and then we went in and took the second apart and I remember leaving that test and then leaving my friend’s house and going back to New Jersey and I didn’t go immediately home. I actually went back to my office and I went into my cubicle and i sent my bosses an email saying, uh you know, apologizing for failing this exam and wasting company funds, yadda, yadda, yadda Two weeks later I get an a letter in the mail from the state of Pennsylvania and I’m expecting it and I didn’t. I actually passed on the first shot I’m like “yes!” i was actually excited about it So that was one of my first professional licenses and then I went on to get licenses in other states like Tennessee and Illinois and um did a bunch of larger projects and eventually I worked for a company that brought me here to Central New York and it was just before 9/11 And with 9/11 hit a lot of the state and federal contracts got suspended or put on hold and they closed the office here in Syracuse, because they didn’t want the outlay of waiting months for the federal government to catch up and they wanted to relocate me again to another state, but my spouse didn’t want to leave Syracuse, because she was a native New Yorker like me but she was from Syracuse. So we stayed and I worked for another firm here and then I started adjunct teaching on the side and I found teaching to be far more rewarding than consulting It wasn’t about the bottom line, it was about giving information and experience to students

that turn the lights on, and you could see their excitement about hearing something new or having some misconception that they have corrected or showing them how easy something was And I enjoyed teaching and I started adjuncting here in 2004. I adjuncted previously at Cortland and Cazenovia and Wells. And then in 2011, I got brought on as full-time faculty as an assistant professor and then I progressed all the way through full professor and then this year, uh just when COVID was uh hitting uh OCC gave me this opportunity to be director of CSTEP, and this is where I am today. And in case you don’t know what CSTEP is, CSTEP is a program to help uh minorities and under-represented people and economically disadvantaged people uh go into the STEM fields, the science, technology and math, the healthcare industry, or a licensed profession in New York state, which, you know, I have a license as a professional geologist in New York state. Uh so I understand what the licensing criteria for a lot of things and that’s the goal of this program that I’m now in charge of for the last four months, and I’m gone from there. So that is my journey to science and i am willing to take some questions Let’s see, so it doesn’t look like we have any live questions um but I have a question for you, um what your your work in the professional world in this professional consulting and now you work with students and you said you find it more rewarding. Um I wanted to see if you can elaborate on that a little bit. Um you’re used to working with these professionals with licenses and now you’re working with students in both your capacity as an instructor and in your capacity as the CSTEP director. Um what parts are better? The part well when you are a consultant, when you work in an industry, you are there to generate revenue, you’re there to make money for the company. So it was always about the bottom line: how much money were you making the company. When you are a professor it’s not about financial gain, it’s about the intellectual rewards that you’re giving to society and that’s what I think is better. I can see students change through a semester, how they learn something new, how they figure out where they want to go in life, and that’s a little bit more rewarding, because it’s not just money. Money comes and goes, I mean we all all of us hopefully have jobs right now and we get a paycheck and we pay bills and then the money’s gone, but that process ends at some point. There’s no more money, you’re not working anymore, but when you are a teacher, when you are a professor, that reward that you are making by educating students propagates itself through time. All of us here are the products of some teacher or some professor, someone told us, taught us how to write, how to read, how to do math, taught us astronomy or geology or physics or English or sociology or some other subject All of us who are in a position right now are there because some other people, a whole family of people that probably never met each other, worked to get you to where you are today. No one is where they are today by themselves. I’m here because I had teachers in elementary school, in junior high school, in high school, in undergrad, in graduate school, who mentored me, who taught me things, who corrected me when I was wrong. You know, who showed me the right path, who said “oh yeah, you don’t want to go to that school, you want to go to this school” or “you don’t want to take this class, you need to take this class” and they got me to this position And I like doing that for students, because when I’m long gone off of the face of this earth there, they will be in a position where they will be teaching students,

where they will be helping other people and those people will help people, so it propagates through time. So just like I am the beneficiary of my professors, teachers who are long since gone, down the road there will be people walking around this earth who will be the beneficiary of my instruction and my help and my guidance and my mentorship, and that’s why I like it You know I can, I can sleep at night not you know not worrying about “oh did did I did I make my quota this this semester or this year uh for my project, did I did revenue meet expectations?” I don’t have to worry about that, I just have to worry about getting my students where they can be You know, and some students you know based on their abilities will be A students, some will be B students, some will be C students, some will be D students. I was not an A student, you know I like I said I was a mediocre student all the way through life, but I had people pushing me in the right direction, helping me along So um speaking of hard classes that you took, there’s a question and it says “how did you convince yourself to continue with the difficult math classes, what motivated you to keep going instead of just picking another major?” Not wanting to fail, not wanting to quit. My father was, like i said, he was a longshoreman and he was you know from the old school. He didn’t believe in quitting, you know, if if you got knocked down you get back up, you get knocked down again you get back up and you keep getting up until whatever’s knocking you down gets tired or quits at knocking you down So you keep trying it and yes you feel bad about failing the class or getting a bad grade. You’ll get over it, try again, that’s all you have to do And it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks of you, you know, like I said you don’t have to be the best student ,you need to get through calculus, well took calc one and oh this is really hard, I think I’m gonna do bad, I will withdraw from the class, take it again the next semester, got to the end of it, failed it, went to the third time, took it, passed it. You know, same thing for other classes, you know. Everybody’s good at something and everybody’s bad at things you know and the thing is you have to work at the things you’re bad at, that’s all Wow, the persistence is an inspiration. Um on the flip side of that coin, someone’s asking if that you have any regrets from your professional career. Is there anything you regret and why? Not saving the money that i was making as a consultant. Being a environmental consultant, especially back in the 90s, uh you got working on for the right firms on the right projects and you made sweet paychecks. Uh and just not saving my money. There was a time where my my ex and I would go out to dinner every day of the week and not just go to like McDonald’s, I mean to a nice steak and ale, where I would eat steak and lobster every day for a week, okay, where you would spend money on uh money on a a dinner that you would, you know, would be a down payment on a car. You know, you know you make a car payment with the amount of money you would spend for dinner, and it was fine because you were making really good money, your spouse was making really good money Just saving that money would have been nice so that’s that’s my one big regret If you could give our students at OCC a word of advice, what’s the one thing that you would like them to know? That well in this current situation that things will get better. We’ll get through COVID just like we’ve got through you know the 1918 epidemic, how we’ve gotten through every other problem that we’ve faced on this planet as a species, we’ll get through this and that right now taking classes is hard, especially when you’re online But just do the work, get through it, because the end result is when you get your degree, and you get your job, and you start your career, and you can move up in life, you know. Like I said, I grew up in Harlem in the 70s and it was not the greatest of neighborhoods You know there was crime, there was you know other problems there,

and now I live in a nice neighborhood, I live in a nice, I have a nice family, I mean children, I’m happy with my existence and things will get better, but you got to put in the work and that’s that’s what advice I would give to you is: do the work now while you’re young and you’ve got the energy, you know, where your memory is still good and you, and you know, you can stay up for 24 hours straight and bounce back with an hour’s worth of sleep. You know, do the work now and then later on in life enjoy the benefits of all that work All right, well thank you so much Calvin for sharing uh your journey with us today. We really appreciate you taking the time uh to share with us and our students. Um so many of our students find themselves on a path that’s not perfectly clear and not perfectly straight and I hope they’re able to take some inspiration from your persistence and sort of the many hats you’ve worn and all the changes you’ve gone through. Now for those for those of you watching this uh recorded on YouTube, there’s a link below for a survey if you want to just take a second, give us some feedback. We want to keep doing these seminars and make improvements based on what you share with us. It has seven quick questions uh that you can fill out. Our next seminar will be on October 7th and our next speaker will be Kiondra Horton she graduated from OCC in 2019 with her Associates degree and she is currently a student at St Joseph’s college of nursing. Again Calvin I want to thank you uh for taking the time to be here and we hope to see many of you on October seven. Bye-bye, thank you again

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