Calvin Mackie

Alumni Spotlight: Dr. Calvin Mackie, McDonogh 35 Class of 1985
Posted on 06/23/2021

STEMNOLA founder Dr. Calvin Mackie, a 1985 graduate of McDonogh 35, said being a Roneagle helped shape his life and gave him the direction needed to break boundaries and the desire to help elevate his fellow community members. 

“When you look at the history of McDonogh 35 and the impact that McDonogh 35 graduates have definitely had on the city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana—if not the United States of America—it’s empowering to know that you are part of that lineage,” he said. “When you walk into a room and announce that you are a McDonogh 35 graduate, you know that you have been educated and received everything that you need to make sure that you deserve to be in that room.”

Mackie came to McDonogh 35 as a junior and said that a group of students and teachers went out of their way to really make sure he was comfortable. 

“Everybody at McDonogh 35 made me feel at home and made me feel a part of something that was bigger than me. I’m forever grateful. It’s had a lasting impact on my life,” he said.

He is particularly thankful to one of his teachers who realized he was a teenager filled with pain and anger and took the time to help him work through it. He said one of the important lessons being at McDonogh 35 has taught him is that everyone is reachable, teachable, and redeemable. 

“There was one teacher who spent two years getting that anger out of me. I don’t know where I would be now if I had gone out in the world, leaving 35 with that anger,” he said. “I feel grateful that she took the time to notice the pain in me and help me deal with it in a way such that it didn’t destroy me.”

That connection made a lasting impression on what it meant to be part of McDonogh 35.

“The most important thing I learned from McDonogh 35 outside of the academics is that community matters,” he said. “I believe the high-functioning community is child-centered, adult-run, and elder-ruled.”

He remembered having alumni come back to the school and inspire students to continue the school’s legacy.

“To this day, the alumni are so strong and so committed to the school because we understand that we are the keepers of the legacy and we also have to impart to the young people that this is bigger than them,” he said. “They have an obligation not only from an academic standpoint but also from a community standpoint to further that legacy.”

Community took many forms for Mackie in school, one being the basketball team, which is said was “one of the greatest basketball teams to ever roll out of Mc 35.”

“Coach Doug and the other coaches knew it was more than about basketball,” he said. “They were committed to not only making us competitors on the court but also competitors in life and letting us know what it would take to be an African American male in America and achieve.”

After high school, Mackie received four stem degrees in 11 years: a bachelor’s in mathematics from Morehouse College and a bachelor’s of science, a master’s degree, and a mechanical engineering from Georgia Tech. 

“Never in my life did I think somebody in my family would have a Ph.D. or title of doctor. I grew up in a house with no books and I got to one of the top engineering schools in the world and get everything they have to offer,” he said. “I think that is an accomplishment that forces me to go out into the community and let other people know it is possible. That’s what drives me every day.”

While in graduate school, he founded Channel Zero Group, a company that published his books, DVDs, and CDs and manages his speaking and training engagements.

“After I got my Ph.D., I was offered the chance to go around the world but I really wanted to come back home. I’ve always had a sense of duty and commitment to New Orleans,” he said.

Mackie became the first and only African American ever tenured in the history of the college of engineering at Tulane University, where he taught from 1996 to 2007. Post-Katrina, Tulane eliminated most of the engineering program, and Mackie suddenly found himself without a job.

He left education, instead founding an alternative energy company called Golden Leaf Energy that created biodiesel. In the midst of all of that, he founded STEMNOLA six years ago. 

STEMNOLA was born out of a conversation Mackie had with his son.

When his children were in elementary school, he said he wasn’t happy with the way they had been exposed to science and math so he started doing experiments in his garage with his children. 

“One day my son came home and he said his friends needed the same experience he had,” Mackie said. “He realized he had been to exposed to something that his friends had not. And in his heart of hearts, he really believed that if his friends were exposed to those things too, they’d be just as bright as them. Right then and there, I realized I had to do more than just pour into my two kids.”

Mackie and his wife used their savings to create STEMNOLA, whose mission is to expose, inspire, and engage in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics through community-based, hands-on activities.

“In the last six years, we’ve engaged over 40,000 kids, 10,000 families, we put over $700,000 in the hands of college students who we hire as interns to go into the communities on Saturdays and after school and work with students in low-income, low-resource communities to give them the exposure to STEM they otherwise may not ever have received,” he said. “I want kids to know what is possible with an education. That’s why I created STEMNOLA. How do we find the geniuses in our community and give them the pathway to accomplish what they want to accomplish? They do it in sports and I want to do that in science, technology, and engineering for our community.”

Mackie said he would offer the same advice to current Roneagles and his STEMNOLA participants that he gives his 15- and 16-year-old children.

“Number one: Control the controllables. You have to make sure you are controlling all the things that you can control in life, meaning do your homework, prepare for exams, do the things that you can do,” he said.

“Number two: leave nothing to chance. Many times, young people wake up today and just think things are going to happen or somebody else is going to do it or the world owes them something,” he added. “And the third thing I would tell them is own your own stuff. Be willing to acknowledge your shortcomings. Be willing to acknowledge when you fail.” 

He wants today’s youth to understand that they are enough. They don’t have to pretend to be what they aren’t.
“You have everything within you to become everything that god has impregnated you with to become. The only thing you have to do is look within, work hard, face your challenges up front and they can be overcome,” he said. “Trying to be some else will never help you become the only unique individual that you’re supposed to be.”

All his academic achievement and community engagement aside, Mackie say the truly greatest accomplishment has been the family he created with his wife and the children they raised. 

“If I have to be remembered for something, I don’t want it to be the degrees. I want it to be the fact that I was a man, I was a father and I raised a family that hopefully will outlive me,” he said.