By  Karen Walker

The University of Virginia School of Engineering has an established reputation for preparing alumni and faculty for leadership roles at other U.S. engineering schools. Eleven alumni and two recent faculty members serve as deans or associate deans at other institutions. The most recent UVA alumnus to earn a leadership post is John M. M. Anderson, a 1992 Ph.D. graduate of the Charles L. Brown Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, who is the newly appointed dean of Howard University's College of Engineering and Architecture. Anderson joined Howard in 2002 as an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, progressing to positions of increasing responsibility within the college. As Howard was also in the national spotlight following the election of alumna Kamala Harris as U.S. vice president, UVA Engineering connected with John to discuss his UVA experience and career. Absolutely, I think most of us do. I was fortunate in three ways. My father, who was a Howard undergrad, went on to medical school and practiced medicine for many years. But for some reason, he had an interest in building electrical circuits from laboratory kits that were sent from a correspondence school. He passed away when I was 7 years old, so I never had a chance to ask him about his interest in electrical circuits. I would just see these kits lying around with the course and lab number. It was interesting to bump into these things as a child. As I got older, I was in a neighborhood funk band, and the father of one of my good friends was an audiophile. He always had the latest speakers and amplifiers. This was a time when audio was not just simply a headphone; you couldn't listen from a mobile phone. You would sit down in your space, with these speakers, in a whole audiophile scene. It was mesmerizing to hear a completely different sound compared to that produced by the cheap equipment most of us had at home. It was amazing what he had, the exposure to all this interesting technology. So that was also a part of it. The last piece: I was fortunate that my high school, Catonsville High School in Catonsville, Maryland, had an electronics course, which was very unusual during that time; I graduated in ‘81. The instructor really gave us a good feel for the practical side of electrical engineering. We would build circuits and counters and little amplifiers and things like that. Collectively, those experiences all led me in a direction towards engineering, and electrical engineering in particular. I completed my undergrad at Brown University and my master's at Georgia Tech. When I was senior at Brown, Dr. Howard Adams, who at the time was executive director of GEM—the National Consortium for Graduate Degrees for Minorities in Engineering and Science—spoke at a National Society of Black Engineers meeting to promote the benefits of a graduate education and the GEM program as a means for pursuing a master's degree. Later, he encouraged me to consider UVA for my doctoral program. So did Dr. Ron Simmons, who was the director of minority programs for the School of Engineering at UVA. After I visited the school and metDr. Stephen Wilsonas well as some other faculty, I decided to come to UVA. I felt like it was a place where I wouldn't be lost. People would know me, and I would know them. I met members of the School's Black graduate student organization. To have that kind of organization just for engineering was not that common. Leland Melvin, retired NASA astronaut who served as a mission specialist on board the Space Shuttle Atlantis on two missions, was part of that group, Sonya Smith, who is a professor of mechanical engineering at Howard University, and Stephanie Adams, the dean at UT Dallas. Many individuals from that group have gone on and done wonderful things in their profession. Meeting them, feeling that they would really be a support group, and that UVA was a great place to study, were all big influences.