Dr. Roosevelt Gentry faced a tough decision in high school — whether to be a mathematician or biologist. “I loved both subjects,” he recalls, “but I was not sure that I had a future in mathematics. Then my mathematics teacher, whom I admired, wrote in my high school yearbook: ‘Roosevelt can do anything he wants to do in life.’ That small message gave me the confidence to go into mathematics.” Today, Gentry works in biomathematics. “I now have the best of both worlds,” he says.
Gentry now teaches and does research at Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississippi, where he completed his undergraduate work. He returned to that school after earning a PhD in mathematics from Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Gentry became chairman of the department soon afterwards and spent the next 10 years as an administrator and teacher. During and after this time he co-authored books on mathematics and psychology. In 1988, he received a [National Science Foundation] M[inority] R[esearch] I[nitiation] grant to work on the solution of a system of differential equations that describes events in the physical and biological worlds. “These equations can be used in computer simulations of experiments,” he points out. “I am presently applying them to biology.”
“I would not be able to do this without MRI support,” Gentry continues. “It pays for computer hardware and software and frees me to do full time research in the summer.” Each summer, he travels to Rutgers to work with his former teacher. “I can travel and take minicourses, which I could not do on my department’s budget,” he adds. “And the grant gives me time to participate in a program whereby mathematicians travel to high schools in Mississippi and Louisiana to talk to students about careers in mathematics. I could not do this unless I had the freedom that the award gives me.”
Dr. Gentry is convinced that such programs are one way to increase the participation of minorities in science and engineering. “MRI-type programs are another way,” he says, “and the two can reinforce each other. Those of us who have received MRI support can serve as role models to encourage precollege and undergraduate students to apply for available grants. This is having a positive impact, but we need more of it and additional programs, too, to halt the decline in the numbers of PhD degrees in science and engineering awarded to minorities.”
[Source: National Science Foundation, “Models of Excellence,” (NSF 90-28), Washington, DC, 1990.]