Of the Coming of James Holly, Jr., PhD

Author: Elizabeth Polak
Event Date: December 4, 2018
James Holly, Jr., Ph.D (ENE ’18), is a recent graduate of the School Engineering Education's Graduate Program, earning a PhD in Engineering Education with his dissertation,"Of the Coming of James: A critical Autoethnography on Teaching Engineering to Black Boys as a Black Man."

Of the Coming of James resonates with the school's recent giant leap, in that James is the program's first black male to successfully defend a dissertation. "It is an extraordinary accomplishment and so fitting given his dissertation," said Morgan Hynes, James' committee chair and mentor. 

James Holly, Jr.
James Holly, Jr.

For his research dissertation, James merged his engineering training with his calling to serve youth, and in particular, black urban youth.  James discusses issues is the school systems that leave some students of different financial statuses, cultures, and races more likely to fall through the cracks and have less learning opportunities. He believes it is crucial for every student to be valued and have equal access in the classroom. James’s dissertation brings to light these issues and talks about what is really going on in many communities. “The way we teach, the materials we use, and the atmosphere we provide can be anti-racist and all-inclusive spaces where students can learn to be comfortable in our classroom and learn to better navigate the environment outside the classroom. It is important for educators to be mindful of the power we have to empower and liberate the minds of our students. However, we must realize what is actually going on before we can effectively deal with it,” stated James.

James is putting those words to action.  As a Detroit, Michigan resident, he is back home and in a new role as an Academic Interventionist for the Martin Luther King Jr. Senior High School in the Detroit Public Schools. To add context, “That’s a fancy way of saying tutor or teaching assistant,” said James, lightheartedly in a recent podcast interview with Dr. Ruth Streveler, host of Engineering Education Research Briefs. James is serving students in grades 9-12 who are in need of help in any subject matter, primarily math, and beyond. The beyond includes advising on the many factors he knows through his own experiences as a black male student. They learn from James about integrity, character, and the broader value of intellectual development beyond getting good grades in school. Students can join his afterschool chess team and play for the basketball team that he coaches. “These [activities] give a wide range of interactions, not just with black males but certainly primarily black males.”  

Be sure to listen to the podcast for James’ dissertation discussion and a bonus feature of James and what he is doing at Martin Luther King Jr. Senior High School in Detroit, Michigan. A link will be added in early January!