A Conversation with Dr. Calvin Mackie


A Conversation with Dr. Calvin Mackie




This is an interview with Dr. Calvin Mackie, who is the founder and CEO of STEM NOLA.


New Orleans native Dr. Calvin Mackie began a non-profit dedicated to making STEM education accessible to all children after recognizing a lack of STEM education in schools. STEM NOLA, his non-profit, is now expanding to New Orleans East, an area once thriving with living that still suffers from the effects of Hurricane Katrina.


Leah Clark


My Nola My Story via YouTube


Mass Communication Department at Xavier University of Louisiana


December 10, 2021


Dr. Calvin Mackie


My Nola, My Story


My Nola, My Story 2021 Exhibit




iMovie, video




A Digital Humanities project by Xavier University of Louisiana's Mass Communication department students, led by Dr. Shearon Roberts.

Original Format


-Intro begins-

Dr. Calvin Mackie: Well that's a deep question. You ask do I have hope for New Orleans East in the 21st century? You know, I can get up every day. I can live without Mardi Gras. I can live without gumbo. I can live without the Saints winning. I can live without going fishing. I can live without my...my favorite beer, my best cigar, but I refuse to live a day without hope. Hope is that little voice in your head that says 'maybe' when the whole world is screaming 'no.' And for me, being from New Orleans, the way I grew up, how I grew up, I thought my name was no. Can I go to the store? No. Do you think I can be an engineer? No. Can I go to this school? No. I remember I would ask pretty little girls 'may I have their number?' Know what they told me? 'No.' So I had to have hope. So the work that we're doing is...part of the work we're doing is to instill hope into the eyes of children to let them know regardless of how they're growing up today they can get up every day and create a better tomorrow for themselves. Do I have hope? That's all I have.

-Intro ends-

Dr. Calvin Mackie: My name is Calvin Mackie. The name of my company is STEM NOLA, and I'm the founder and CEO.

-Video cuts-

Dr. Calvin Mackie: New Orleans is a different place. New Orleans is, you know, New Orleans has a culture. I believe it was Tennessee Williams that said 'Oustide of San Fransisco, New Orleans, and New York, everywhere else is Cleveland. New Orleans has a culture. It has a vibe. It has a history. New Orleans has a pulse, so as a kid growing up in New Orleans, it wasn't some big metropolitan area. So we just got...we were just allowed, we were able to roam from different neighborhoods. And the fact New Orleans has a history, I mean you got to tap into people who had grown up in the city, was two or three generations in the city. So you got to know elders, and you know, the fact that I got to know elders, I got to hear all this history that was passed down and the wisdom that was passed down, so a lot of times people from New Orleans, people say 'you know, you're like an old soul.' It's not that we are old souls. It's just that we've spent time with elders, and we have a sense of history that informs our present, that motivates us for the future.

-Video cuts-

Dr. Calvin Mackie: Growing up in New Orleans, I was a public school product. I was showing somebody a picture of me from my third-grade class the other day, and they were like 'wow you actually went to school... a public school with white people. So I went to elementary school in the early 70s, and that was when 'white flight' was beginning. Black people was moving into middle-class neighborhoods, and white people was moving out. So my, you know, all through elementary, there was a minority number of white people in elementary schools I went to, even though, you know, we had white people. So after middle school...after elementary school, I wanted to go to middle school where all my cousins had gone. I keep telling people I used to wanted to go to McDonogh 28, where my cousins had gone, and I dreamt of smoking weed and playing basketball just like my cousins did. There was a teacher in the sixth grade who called my mom and said 'I don't think you should go to that school. He has more. I don't think that school can offer what he, what he really needs.' My mom said 'where should he go?" And my teacher told my mom where I should go, and it necessitated me taking two buses every morning, so at, you know when my sons was in the seventh grade, I was still taking them to school every day. No, we took our sons to school all the way through, through K-12, but in seventh grade, I had to get up, walk a half a mile, and then catch two buses just to get to my middle school. And that middle school was Francis W. Gregory, and they had a program there where they invited kids from all over the city to come called the Accelerated Program. And we had teachers almost like an honors program, but it was like a smaller school in a bigger school, so even though we was taking these honors classes, I had the opportunity to interact with kids, again, from the community. And then, in my tenth-grade year, I actually went to a school with Catholics. An all-white, male Catholic school by the name of Brother Martin. Only reason that I went to Brother Martin is because they had a basketball team. The coach recruited me, and they had a beautiful gym with a scoreboard hanging from the ceiling and they had shoot shirts. And I went to Brother Martin, and it was one of the best-worst decisions I ever made in my life. Many of my classes I was one of two black boys. In that entire year at Brother Martin, I made one B. I made all A's and one B, but Brother Martin was one of the best decisions. Brother Martin introduced me to the world that I was going to have to live in and compete in. All my life I had gone to public school. This one year I go to this all-white male private school, and the teachers and the administration brought hell upon me, and I believe that's where I get my fighting spirit from because a lot of the other black boys just sat there and took it, and I fought them hook, line, and sinker. When I left that school, I made one B, and still to this day, I claim I didn't even make a B in that class. You know, the teacher screwed me that class, and I left that school, and I went to McDonogh 35. McDonogh 35 is first high school in the city of New Orleans...African American high school in the city of New Orleans. One of the most famous high schools in the state of Louisiana, and I had to fight to get in that school because they only except kids that are in the ninth and tenth grade. So my parents had to go to the School Board to fight for me to get admitted as a junior because I had gone to this private school. So then, I went to McDonogh 35, and I've taken time telling that story because my trek through education plays a large role in the person that I am and the work that I do.

-Video cuts-

Dr. Calvin Mackie: I really don't have a personal connection to New Orleans East, but being from New Orleans we remember what New Orleans East was. When we used to come to New Orleans East, this is where like the rich black people lived. This is was like the middle-class black people with new houses. As we used to go, come out to the 'East', and this is where the mall was. And you know, you had houses with big lawns and swimming pools, and that was New Orleans East. That was the dream. That was the Jeffersons moving up. If only I could move to New Orleans East, so when you look at New Orleans East in terms of what it is now versus what it was, the personal connection for me is that I want to be a part of the movement to bring New Orleans East back and give all our children access to what they need to...to achieve and succeed in the 21st century.

-Video cuts-

Dr. Calvin Mackie: You say, where was I when I got first introduced to STEM education? That's a very emotional question for me now because two weeks ago my godfather passed away, and I just went to Los Angeles weekend before last to bury him. And the reason why it's emotional is because in 1979 my dad had a roofing company. My dad dropped out of school in the eighth grade to pick cotton, but he started a roofing company, so every summer I used to work on a roof with my dad, even as a little boy. So I was always cutting things, hammering things, and nailing things, and you could consider that STEM, right? Because, you know, STEM is about doing. But in 1979, my dad put all his kids in a car, and we drove 2,000 miles straight down Interstate 10 and to Los Angeles, California to see my godfather. And I'll tell a story...I'll never forget: we get there, I ran up to him, and hugged him. First time I was in California, and we go in the house and him and my dad sitting there drinking beer, laughing about the good times. And he said, 'Hey boy. Let's go to the store,' and he took me to Sears. And Sears...robots...people, some of y'all may not even remember Sears, but he took me to Sears, and he got me an Erector Set. When we got the Erector Set, we went back to his house, and while he and my dad sat there laughing, drinking beer, I built a car and it had a little motor in the box with a rubber band. And I built that car, and the car rolled across the floor. And my godfather looked at my dad and screamed 'that boy is going to be an engineer.' I had never heard the word before. I couldn't spell the word, but the only thing that I remembered from that day was that my uncle said I was going to be an engineer. And all through my life when I went back to school, they said 'What you going to be?' and I said 'My Uncle said I'm going to be an engineer.' When I went to college with poorest test scores and things like that, they say 'What you going to be?' and I say 'I'm going to be an engineer.' And they say 'Well, we don't know if you got the scores' and the only that really resonated with me was that my uncle said I'm going to be an engineer. And that informs the work that I do now. My uncle gave me a kit when I was nine years old, and I sit here before you now with B.S. in Mathematics and three Engineering degrees including a Ph.D. in Engineering. He planted the seed, and the work that we're doing now is that we're planting those seeds that my uncle planted in me when I was nine years old.

-Video cuts-

Dr. Calvin Mackie: The story of STEM NOLA...one, I used to be a professor at Tulane. I'm the first and only African American ever tenured in the history of the College of Engineering at Tulane University. I was tenured in the Mechanical Engineering department. I was a professor at Tulane for twelve years. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Tulane decided to keep the football team and eliminate the engineering program, so you hear about people getting tenure. And professors say 'I got tenure. I got a job for life' well you're meeting someone that actually lost tenure. At 35 years old, making over $100,000, it was ripped away from me in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. I moved back to New Orleans to make a change and make a difference in my community. So other universities were recruiting me, but I decided to stay. So I started an alternative energy company. I started a consultant company to feed my family, but I'll never forget one day my son came home. My son said 'Dad, I don't like science anymore.' I'm like 'Boy you're out your rabid mind. It's in your DNA. Your mother is a pharmacist, went Xavier University. I got four STEM degrees. I used to whisper, you know, Newton's Laws to your momma's stomach. It's in your DNA.' And he said 'Daddy, the teacher just talk to the board, and I like to do stuff with my hands.' I said 'Well, that has to change.' So we went in the garage, and I started buying all these STEM kits. And he came to the garage. We started doing STEM on Saturdays. My other son came in the garage. We would do STEM together. All the kids in the neighborhood would see us in the garage. They started inviting their friends, so we started doing STEM together. And before you know it, we would have 20 kids in the garage at STEM on Saturdays. One day...couple days later, my son came home. I said to my son 'Son, what's your grades?' He said 'I got all A's' and I said 'Now, that's my boy.' He said 'Daddy, my friends want to know how I know all this?' I said 'Well tell them. Did you tell them that you do this in the garage with your dad?' He said 'Yeah Dad, but my friends need this.' Right then and there, my son realized that he had been exposed to somebody and things that his friends had not. In his heart of hearts, he believed that if his friends were exposed to those people and those things, they'll be just as bright as him. The frightening part about that conversation is that my son was attending a magnet school in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. One of the top schools in Louisiana state, so if his friends were not being exposed, what does that say about all the rest of the kids? So right then and there, my wife Tracy and I decided that we had to do something. How could we give the community that which we have given our sons? And we took 100,000 of our own dollars, and December 14, 2013, we had the first STEM Feast. We went...we came to New Orleans East...Joe Brown Park, and we just bought everything that we could buy, and we just put it out. And we planned for 100 kids to show up. On that day, 350 kids and 150 parents showed up in the gym. It was cold and raining, and we realized that we were on to something. People really wanted this stuff, and since then, we've engaged over 100,000 kids, 20,000 families. We put over $1.5 million in the hands of college students as interns, and we...we believe we've built a model now that can be scaled across the country.

-Video cuts-

Dr. Calvin Mackie: We're embarking on building a $10 million 42,000 square foot STEM innovation hub in...in New Orleans East. I believe when people have to leave their community to get something of value that's a sign o the statement of value that society is...has placed on them. So why do I have to leave my community and go way across town to get something of value? Valuable things should b in our community, especially like STEM, so we want to create a place where kids can come. You know, if kids play football, there's gyms for them to go to. Even in New Orleans, there's something called the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts. My brother is Anthony Mackie. My brother is Captain America. The first black Captain America is my younger brother. Same momma, same daddy. And when he was in middle school, he said 'You know what? I'm interested in the arts' because I tried to push him in STEM, and his teacher said 'You know what? I think he'll be good on stage' because he had behavior problems. And they put him in the arts program, and he flourished. But you know what they had? The had something called the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, and he could leave his school and go to the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts. If you want to be a quarterback, during the summer, they got all these football camps. They got AAU. They got travel teams for people who want to be in sports, but if you want to be the next great scientist, the next great engineer, the next great innovator, where do you go? Most schools don't even offer STEM, let alone you becoming a great scientists. So we're going to create, for a lack of a better word, the New Orleans...like the NOCCA of STEM, where kids who got these talents, these gifts, and even these desires can come and learn the skills they need for the 21st century. So we not talking about learning plumbing, and learning welding, and learning being an electrician. We talking about the vocational skills and certifications that our kids need for the 21st century, so they'll be able to leave their schools and come learn the internet of things, data science, predictive analytics, machine language, coding, cyber security, sensors. They going to be able to learn everything they need to be a functional citizen in the 21st century.

-Video cuts-

Dr. Calvin Mackie: If there was a message I wanted to give young people, you know, on of my favorite phrases is 'keep pushing.' Man cannot create a test to measure what God has put in your heart. Man can't create barriers big enough that...that your God can't help you get over. So whatever it is, you know, that you have in you. Whatever it is you believe in. Whatever keep you up at night, and I ain't talking about Fortnite. I ain't talking about twerking, tweeting, or 'twating.' Whatever that keep you up at night that's in your spirit that's what you should get up every day and work like hell to accomplish regardless of the obstacles before you, regardless of who may tell you 'no.' But you need to know that you've been impregnated with greatness, and if you don't give birth to it, the world is just going to have to go on without it. The cure for cancer may be in you. The cure for AIDS may be in you. Like Kizzmekia Corbett, the cure for COVID was in her, and if she didn't bring forth that dream, we may still be in trouble. So you got to ask yourself, fall on your knees every night, and ask God, what is it within me that I'm supposed to do before my eyes close. And then, get up and work like there's no tomorrow.



15:34 (15 minutes, thirty-four seconds)


Leah Clark


Dr. Shearon Roberts


Date Added
November 2, 2021
Nola Community
Item Type
Moving Image
, , , , , , , ,
Leah Clark, “A Conversation with Dr. Calvin Mackie,” MY NOLA, MY STORY , accessed March 2, 2024, https://xulamasscomm.omeka.net/items/show/158.