How my HBCU led me to my STEM career

The first principle of my blog is Creating Ecosystems of Success, and a major focus is awareness of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields. In my post entitled, Who will benefit from Apple’s $350 billion investment?, I cited data stating that less than 10% of STEM degree holders are African American – a staggering number as these are some of the highest paying careers today. That same data was cited in an article by PBS entitled; African-Americans over-represented among low-paying college majors.

In my post entitled, The story of how I earned my STEM degree as a minority, I discussed the major learning points during my doctoral studies within the University of Michigan Department of Pharmacology. After completing that post, I realized that I also needed to discuss the role Johnson C. Smith University (JCSU) played in my journey. Despite debates over their continued relevance in modern times, many black STEM professionals received their initial training at their Historically Black Colleges/Universities (HBCU). Thus, in this post, I’m going to discuss how JCSU contributed to my journey towards my STEM career.

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When I arrived at JCSU in the fall of 1995, I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do career-wise. I knew that I was inclined towards the biological sciences, but what career would I land in? Would I go to medical school? Would I end up teaching? Would it be something else? When I started my higher education at a Predominantly White Institution (PWI), the SUNY College at Brockport, a year earlier, I thought I wanted to be an athletic trainer; but I still wasn’t sure.

During my year at the SUNY Brockport before transferring to JCSU, I figured out how to be a student and earned an ‘A’ grade in my Survey of Anatomy and Physiology class – a very intensive pre-medical course. After earning that A, I knew that I could excel in most other undergraduate Biology courses and that’s the mindset I took with me down to Charlotte. Being 12 hours away from home also gave me a strong sense of focus and urgency.

The professors in the Department of Natural Sciences at JCSU were a dedicated and hardworking group. They were all very accomplished as most of them had a Ph.D. As described in my post entitled, Researching your career revisited: Wisdom from a STEM professor at my HBCU, some of them used a ‘tough love’ approach with us, letting us know that doing mediocre and low quality work would all but shut us out of careers like medicine, to which many of us, at least verbally aspired. Some of us rose to the challenge while others rejected their coaching.

Early on I churned out multiple A’s in my core courses which made me stand out because there were few males there at the time who were doing that. There was a select group of females who were doing it and were on track to get into medical school; as described in my piece about researching your career goals. I was also very malleable and teachable, so I started spending time with the professors in their offices outside of classes to get advice and feedback on material covered in class and potential careers. One professor did something that changed the course of my life.

“What are you doing this summer?” I was in the office of the professor I discussed in the piece about the importance of researching your career of interest. She wanted to know how I was going to spend my summer months. We were midway through the spring 1997 semester.

“I think I’m just going to go back to Buffalo to work security and wait tables at the bar I worked at last year,” I said to her shrugging my shoulders.

“No! You need to do something scientific,” she forcefully replied. “Take this, fill it out and bring it back to me!”

She handed me an application for the Ronald E. McNair Program at UNC-Charlotte. I quickly filled it out just as she mandated. It was a pivotal moment. I was going to go back home to Buffalo that summer because it was comfortable. However, more importantly, I didn’t know what I could do scientifically over the summer. This professor had seen my potential, and then stepped in to help me realize it. I participated in the McNair program over the summers of 1997 and 1999 – something I’ll write about that later. My professor’s actions opened a whole new world for me and led me to my graduate studies at the University of Michigan.

Another professor also impacted my future. He passed away several years ago, so I’ll mention his name. It was Dr. Joseph Fail, Jr., whom I became close to when I was a student. I stayed friends with him after graduating. Like everyone else who met him initially, Dr. Fail came off as a bit eccentric to me. He had a ‘hippie-like’ appearance in terms of how he dressed, and he had a long graying beard. He was the one professor out of the group who had background in the plant sciences; Botany and Ecology for which he was very, very passionate. He was also passionate about the students, and always encouraged our learning how to write and think coherently. He was alarmed by how some students wrote – something he repeatedly shared that with me in my numerous visits in his office.

Dr. Fail helped me secure a two-year fellowship through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) where we proposed to teach Ecology to kids at a local Charlotte school in grades 4-6. I didn’t understand the significance of teaching Ecology to these age groups, but I did understand that my tuition would be completely paid for my final two years, and that I’d receive a stipend. Which meant that I’d no longer have to work an off-campus job. During my first two years at JCSU, I worked at the McDonalds at the downtown Overstreet Mall for spending money.

We submitted the grant the night it was due and stayed at Biddle Hall with members of the administration until 7 or 8 pm that night. The officials at Biddle Hall insisted on a certain level of quality, which caused a big ‘dust up’ as Dr. Fail just wanted to get the proposal submitted. It was my first experience applying for scientific grant funding. In getting those last two years of tuition paid, he impacted me and my family’s future for years to come by significantly decreasing my debt burden. The project was the basis for my senior thesis paper. Whenever Dr. Fail didn’t think that I was working hard enough on it, he was quick to remind me, “You’re getting paid for this Anwar!”

Two other professors in the department both had the last name ‘Thomas’, but they weren’t related. Those who were there knew that their last names actually weren’t ‘Thomas’. It was something close, and I’m just trying to protect their identities. One of them taught our Zoology class – a ‘gatekeeper’ course. He gave us multiple choice questions and frequently tricked the students who’d gotten the previous year’s exams from classmates. These students answered many of the questions wrong because they didn’t understand the principles of what was being asked, though the answers sounded the same. He stayed on us about class participation and continuously prodded the students to participate in discussions.

In my last year, Dr. Thomas encouraged us to revive the Science Club and for me to become the President. Though I had no idea how to be one, nor did I have the desire. I’d gotten used to working on my own and didn’t know how to be the head of any group. I begrudgingly accepted the position, and it was a good experience. I recall having my mentor from the McNair program come over from UNC-Charlotte to talk to us about his research in Hepatic Physiology. We also went to the Asheboro Zoo one day, I believe.

I became close with the other Dr. Thomas toward the end of my time at JCSU. I only scored a ‘B’ in his Biochemistry class, but I was juggling a lot at that time. I asked him to write a letter of recommendation for me for graduate school. He told me many stories about his graduate school days at the University of Cincinnati when things were much, much harder for black people. He encountered a lot of racism as he worked on his Ph.D. in Physiology. He came across as a little eccentric at times, as well, but he cared about the students and in some ways was very misunderstood. He always encouraged me saying, “Anwar, if you don’t get into graduate school, I don’t know what to say because you’re one of the best that we have!”

The Chemistry, Math and Physics professors cared a lot about the students also. In my post entitled, The keys to learning college level general chemistry, I discussed how I ‘turned the corner’ in terms of understanding General Chemistry under the professor who taught it to me at JCSU. The chemistry courses were also gatekeeper courses which derailed many students’ dreams of going to medical school.

As I described in my blog post regarding my experience during graduate school, I didn’t learn the importance of asking questions and scientific curiosity until after I left JCSU. It wasn’t because the professors didn’t encourage it though. Instead, it was because some of my classmates fought it. Unfortunately, in some instances, if the majority of a group isn’t committed to advancing, they can hold back those that are. It turns out that curiosity and asking questions is the lifeblood of any science – medicine included. Likewise if you don’t ask questions, you won’t go very far in any STEM.

“You’re the only one from our group who went into science,” a former classmate told me recently at homecoming weekend – something that both surprised me and was very telling. I think everyone in my cohort had the ability to go on to do something scientific, but we all arrived at JCSU with different tools and mindsets. Some also ran into some of life’s other unforeseen difficulties.

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I’m going to close by going back to the science club and the importance of mentoring. At the time I wasn’t sure how to be the President of the Science Club. In hindsight, it was just setting and creating environments/spaces where we could all grow, ask questions, talk science and exchange ideas – things they were doing at Howard and Morehouse.

To help our alma mater, I’m seeking to do that now for the current students, alumni and the university. I’ve started a Facebook page and group both entitled, “JCSU STEM Alumni”. I’ve also started an Instagram account with the same name. Please follow, join and contribute. That goes for Ph.Ds like myself, medical doctors, IT specialists or mathematicians. In terms of the logo, the elements used in the JCSU STEM Alumni logo; Neon, Lithium, Potassium and Scandium are elements 10, 3, 19 and 21 on the Periodic Table. In our alphabet, the numbers 10, 3, 19 and 21 correspond to the letters J-C-S-U.

If you’re a student and have questions about a course or your career, please reach out via a public post or a direct message. If you’re not a Smithite, but have a STEM background and want to participate, please join as well. Also, please help spread the word.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post. If you enjoyed this post you may also enjoy:

The story of how I earned my STEM degree as a minority
A look at STEM: What are the Basic Sciences and Basic Research?
A look at STEM: What is Regulatory Science?
The transferrable skills from a doctoral degree in the basic sciences
A look at STEM: What is Inhalation Toxicology?
A look at STEM: What is Pharmacology?

If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and/or leave a comment. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right-hand column in this post and throughout the site, or add my RSS feed to your feedreader. You can follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, and Twitter at @BWArePowerful. Lastly, you can follow me on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

The Importance of Music in Schools

A key focus of my blog is General Education. I recent years, music and the arts have been de-emphasized in many curricula around the country. While there is a new emphasis on the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields, should music be forsaken altogether? The following contributed post is entitled, The Importance of Music in Schools.

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There’s been a lot in the news in recent years about a lack of arts and creativity in schools. Subjects that were once cherished, like music and dance and being replaced with more sciences, a great emphasis on computers and the addition of things like coding and networking. Even children in elementary school, aren’t being given a chance to learn music in lessons or take extra classes to learn how to play an instrument.

Music and subjects like it are quickly being erased from many curriculums. New subjects are becoming more important, and there’s no denying that children today need to learn more new skills. They’ll spend much of their life working on a computer, and things like coding, networking, and even digital marketing are essential in the modern world. It wouldn’t be right to deny our children the chance to learn them in schools. But, with only so many hours in the day, is it ok to deny them the chance to musical education, a chance to be creative, and even upload music? Shouldn’t we still be offering a rounded education, with music in the middle? Here are some of the benefits of teaching music in school.

Credit – https://unsplash.com/photos/HwU5H9Y6aL8

It Gives Children Greater Expression

Young children struggle to communicate their feelings and needs. Music gives them a new way. They can play instruments to channel how they are feeling, without having to find the right words. Frankly, this can be great for moody teenagers too.

It Makes School Fun

School is hard work. Today’s children are under more pressure than any previous generation. They sit exams much earlier, and much more frequently. A greater emphasis is put on academic achievements. They take more work home, they study for longer hours, and much more is expected of them. Even at a young age, this doesn’t leave a great deal of time for fun.

All this hard work, without any kind of balance can leave children feeling overwhelmed, struggling with anxiety and even facing depression. Even those that cope well can grow up hating school and resenting education. It certainly doesn’t create a positive learning environment.

Creative subjects, with a less academic focus, like music and the arts, adds some fun. It gives children a chance to break free. To be creative, to express themselves, to improve their social skills, to find something that they love doing, and most importantly, to be a child and enjoy themselves. This can reduce pressure massively, improving children mental health and well-being, and even increasing attendance rates.

To Encourage Social Skills

Most children are naturally very social. If they spend their time at school sat working quietly, next to people but not with them and then they go home and sit in front of the TV or playing on devices, these social skills aren’t being encouraged. In fact, they are being stunted. Music encourages friendships, teamwork and gives their social skills a big boost.

It Boosts Brain Power

Learning music boosts their brains. It uses a different part of their brains and gives them a kick start. Kids that learn music or play an instrument are often faster learners, better readers and have better memories.

Researching your career revisited: Wisdom from a STEM professor at my HBCU

I originally published this piece on the Examiner back in January of 2013. It discussed some simple, but valuable career advice a professor from my undergraduate institution gave me and my classmates. If followed, this advice would likely save the student, their family and their schools money, time, and heartache.

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Though the importance is questioned by some today, there are advantages to attending Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Two big advantages are small class sizes and the personal relationships that can be developed with the faculty. These two factors were integral to my success at Johnson C. Smith University (JCSU).

It isn’t just the close relationships with the faculty that are advantageous, but also the “tell it like is” mentality with which they taught us. The instructors felt as though they had to be hard on us students in order to make us competitive, to help us reach our potential, and ultimately, to achieve our dreams. Some students rejected this approach, while others embraced the guidance and the coaching.

Many students who major in the biological sciences do so with hopes of going to medical school and becoming a physician. Not only is being a medical doctor a well-respected profession, but it is also believed to lead to a life of wealth and prosperity; something many doctors and the author of The Millionaire Next Door, Dr. Thomas Stanley, would debate.

During my first year at JCSU, a very simple but important piece of advice was passed along to the students in our Concepts of Modern Biology class. That advice was simply that we students should take some time to research our careers of interest. Again it was simple but very powerful advice.

“You all keep saying that you want to go to medical school, but you don’t have the slightest idea as to what it takes to get into medical school, or what’s going to happen once you get there,” our professor, a Ph.D. of Cell Biology, passionately said to us. She was small in stature but was a very tough-minded professor.

“What you all need to do is to go to the library, pull out a book on the healthcare professions and read up on what it will take to become a medical doctor,” she further advised us. She’d often say, “the slots are limited,” meaning that it was very competitive to get into medical school and they would only take the best of the best. A couple of driven, motivated and talented students from JCSU in that era did in fact go on to medical school to pursue their dreams.

It was debated quite a bit at the time whether or not students from a small HBCU like JCSU could get into medical school. The students who made it in proved that it could be done, but again they were some of the best and brightest that our Natural Sciences Department had to offer.

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I took my professor’s advice and investigated the path towards becoming a medical doctor. In between semesters, I visited Buffalo’s downtown public library and pulled out a book on the healthcare professions. Some of what I discovered in my research, I’d heard before; applicants needing a competitive score on the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT), a competitive grade point average (GPA) particularly in the sciences, letters of recommendation, and scientific research or volunteer experience in a clinic or hospital.

What I read next though were the real eye openers. Financially, many medical students offset their tuition with loans and graduated with hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt. Medical school graduates are required to complete something called a “Residency” which usually involved them getting little sleep over long periods of time, depending on their specialization. They further had to be willing to move to often remote and undesirable locations in some instances initially. Finally, most don’t start making significant money until long after they’ve graduated or completed their training.

After doing the research, I decided that I didn’t want to go to medical school to be a physician. I stayed in science but decided to go into research which itself had its own notable challenges and struggles, though ultimately quite a few rewards. See my post on that.

The point of this story is not to discourage anyone from going to medical school, especially if treating and caring for patients is a student’s underlying motivation, dream and passion. A career is a personal choice and must be decided by the individual. That being said, it’s important to do the research, study the process and figure out all that will be involved when pursuing a particular career path.

At one point, being a medical doctor may have been a very lucrative profession to pursue, but as with most areas of life, things seldom stay the same. Significant factors that medical doctors have to contend with today that they didn’t worry about as much in years past, is the impact of Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) on the degree of care patients can receive, and the threat of malpractice lawsuits.

“You want to do something that you’re going to enjoy doing every day. If you’re doing something just for the money, it’s not a good thing,” a mentor advised me. In general, careers should be pursued not simply for the money, but based upon what a student is passionate about and has a natural talent for.

Furthermore, the cost of seeking a professional education such as attending medical, dental or law school, for example, should be strongly considered before pursuing a given career. Specifically, the amount of debt that will have to be repaid should be one of the major considerations as it will impact an individual’s lifestyle for a potentially significant amount of time.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post. If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy:

The story of how I earned my STEM degree
A look at STEM: What are the Basic Sciences and Basic Research?
A look at STEM: What is Regulatory Science?
The transferrable skills from a doctoral degree in the basic sciences
A look at STEM: What is Pharmacology?
A look at STEM: What is Toxicology?

If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and/or leave a comment. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right-hand column in this post and throughout the site, or add my RSS feed to your feedreader. You can follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, and Twitter at @BWArePowerful. Lastly, you can follow me on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

A Teaching Moment: Boosting Your Career In Education

Two focuses of my blog are Career Discussions and General Education. While very important and rewarding, a career in education can be very, very challenging at times. Some teachers burn out and leave the field altogether, while others ascend into administration. No matter what your aspirations are as an educator, it’s important to think about your career in depth and set yourself up to succeed. The following contributed post is therefore entitled, A Teaching Moment: Boosting Your Career In Education.

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If you’ve chosen a career in the development and education of young minds; you’ll understand how rewarding a job in teaching can be. However, education also brings its challenges, and sometimes, you’ll have to deal with stressful situations. If you’re keen to work through the various highs and lows of your job role; you have longevity in teaching and enjoy your career until retirement. Some people find themselves wondering how to boost their career further, due to job dissatisfaction and lack of prospects. There are ways to push ahead with your career in education; you just have to know where to look and what to do. The following are some tips and ideas for those who want to give their job role a helping hand for a long and rewarding career in the educational field.

Image source: https://www.pexels.com/photo/people-notes-meeting-team-7095/

More Learning

The more adept you are to handle your class; the better you’ll be able to gain their respect and influence their educational choices, and you’ll be an appealing candidate for an academic recruitment firm. Therefore, if you’re feeling a little stagnant in your teaching role; consider furthering your qualifications, utilizing those skills, and start the next step in your job journey. Take a look at the information available online to understand how specialized courses and qualifications will help to open all sorts of career doors for you. The more strings to your bow you obtain; the better chance you have at a promotion or a fresh job placement altogether.

Perhaps there are certain areas of your job that you do not feel as strong as you’d like to; research into courses you can complete and all the avenues that are in place aimed to strengthen those elements of your career. You’ll be able to walk into the classroom with confidence, and your head held high, knowing that you’ve worked hard to get where you are and to have the knowledge and expertise that will benefit your class of students.

New Methods

If you’re struggling with your current teaching methods, and the information isn’t sinking in with your class; don’t be afraid to try something new. As long as you are teaching the required lesson, and sticking to school guidelines; you should experiment with tried and tested techniques that may seem unconventional. Do your research so that you can look for some innovative ways to teach kids, and get some inspiration to take into your own classroom. Everything from role play, to playing classical music during lessons has been utilized in the education of young minds; so be the teacher that people remember and start seeing the improvements to your pupil’s education and grades that can happen as a result.

Social Connections

If you’re struggling with one particular individual, that doesn’t seem to want to learn or be there; it’s worth investigating into their life outside the classroom. Look for significant behavioral changes and issues that may have arisen that has led to difficulties, and let them know that you’re a friendly ear if they need help, or simply to talk. The more time you put into your lessons and the welfare of your students, the better your relationship with them will be, and the quicker they’ll learn what’s needed.

Niagara Falls basketball legend Carlos Bradberry discusses playing in the LaSalle basketball dynasty part one

“Our whole family, including my cousins, was a basketball family and I just grew up watching basketball.”

The first principle of my blog is “Creating Ecosystems of Success”. A key aspect of creating them is hearing the stories and experiences of those who have made it to where we want to be. Like many kids, an early dream of mine was to play basketball. That dream didn’t reach fruition, but the lessons I learned playing in Section VI, the New York State Public High School Athletic Association’s western-most section, laid the groundwork for me to go on to further my education and start my career in science.

I’m currently working on a project chronicling my early basketball journey, and as a part of the research for that project, I’ve interviewed numerous Section VI basketball players and coaches from my era. On September 26, 2018, I had the honor of interviewing Carlos Bradberry – one of the many great guards in Coach Pat Monti’s LaSalle basketball dynasty. Carlos was the floor general for the Explorers following Michael Starks and Modie Cox, and then prior to the ascension of Tim Winn, Jody Crymes and Terry Rich.

In part one of this two-part interview Carlos discusses his background, how he started playing basketball, and how he became one of the legendary point guards in Section VI and the LaSalle basketball dynasty. The pictures in this interview come from an archive of Section VI basketball, carefully assembled over the years from issues of the Buffalo News, the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, and Section V and VI playoff programs by my first Coach at Hutch-Tech High School, Dr. Ken Jones. Other pictures were generously shared by Carlos himself, and his Head Coach at LaSalle Senior High School, Pat Monti. Click on any of the images to enlarge them.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Carlos-Driving.jpg

Anwar Dunbar: Hello, Carlos. First, thank you for telling your story. As you know I wrote some pieces on Coach Monti and Tim Winn. I’m a blogger and, as you may also know, I’m writing a book about my high school basketball experience and what that taught me about success and failure in life. The experience of high school basketball was my first attempt at effecting a personal goal and it set the stage for everything else.

To make the story as authentic as possible I wanted talk to some of the other Section VI players from that era – teammates and opponents to see what their experiences were. This is relevant because LaSalle was the premiere program in Section VI for 10-12 years and for a stretch of that, you were the guy. Also, when I started this project, I actually said to myself, ‘It would be great to interview Carlos Bradberry,’ as you were a member of the ‘All-Western New Your First Team’ during my sophomore and junior seasons.

Before we start, I have a quick story. We played your team in the 1991 Festival of Lights Tournament in the opening round. You guys handled us by about 30 points (laughing). My story is one of discovery, so I was literally figuring everything out as I went along. The day before the game, just after our Coach gave us the scouting report, one of my teammates said as we were leaving the gym, ‘We’re not going to beat LaSalle!’ I wondered how he could say such a thing. The next day as the game gradually unfolded, I saw his point (laughing). I remember you slashing to the basket repeatedly, and the announcer calling your name repeatedly. I developed a respect for you after that game and kept my eye on what you were doing.

With that, let’s start. Where is the Bradberry family from? Are you all from Niagara Falls or somewhere else?

Carlos Bradberry: My grandfather is from Alabama, but we’re for the most part, from here.

AD: Don’t you have an older brother named Cazzie?

CB: Yes. Cazzie is two years older than me. He graduated with Modie Cox, Scotty Rose, and Anthony Wallace – those guys.

AD: How old were you when you started playing basketball?

CB: I was eight or nine when I started playing in the Boys Club, which was a ‘rite of passage’ for everyone in Niagara Falls back then. It was the only thing going on. If you were anybody playing basketball, you came through the ‘Biddy Leagues’ or the Boys Club. I played for the actual Boys Club team.

AD: Was your Dad a basketball player? Did you see your older brother play and wanted to play as well, or did you just naturally want to play?

CB: I think my Dad was a good high school football and basketball player. My Dad’s playing days were done by the time I became interested in basketball. Our whole family, including my cousins, was a basketball family and I just grew up watching basketball.

My Dad used to take us to high school games when Trott-Vocational was really good back in the day. We’d go to see Trott and Niagara Falls play. That’s what really got me going and it was just a family thing. Basketball was it for my cousins and me. My cousins always played, so I was always playing with them.

AD: I think I saw in one of the Buffalo News stories that there was a Niagara Falls Senior High School player who also had the last name Bradberry. Did you have a cousin over there?

CB: I had two cousins over there – Darien and Cortez. They graduated the same year as my brother in 1991.

AD: This is fascinating because what I’m gathering is that Niagara Falls was a much smaller community compared to Buffalo which had 14 high schools and the city was bigger, so not everyone knew each other. It sounds like you guys all knew each other, and you were all playing together, even before you got to the high school level.

CB: Yes, everybody knew each other, and everybody played together. Growing up I didn’t know where I was going to play because of how they had the school districts sectioned off. I lived within walking distance to Niagara Falls Senior High School, but they bused us to LaSalle.

I was a LaSalle kid and it was miles and miles away from my house. I didn’t really know until I reached middle school – I went to LaSalle Middle School instead of Gaskill. Gaskill was the other middle school at the time, and it still is.

AD: What was it called?

CB: Gaskill. So primarily those kids went to Niagara Falls Senior High School, and the LaSalle Middle School kids obviously when to LaSalle Senior High School.

AD: I discussed the Biddy Leagues with Tim Winn. We had middle school teams in Buffalo, but it sounds like Niagara Falls did not have those. And so everyone played in the Biddy Leagues until you were ready to play in one of the two Junior Varsity (JV) programs. Were guys getting quality coaching in the Biddy Leagues or did they just throw the balls out there and let you run around?

CB: It’s funny. We always had the older guys who knew basketball. I know that Mike Hamilton, who is a referee now, coached me primarily when I was in the Biddy Leagues. He’s a real ‘basketball’ guy. There was the Boys Club, the Thirteenth Street Center, and there was another community center – so there were three to four centers and all of them basically had basketball guys in those positions. It wasn’t just guys showing up off the street and wanting to coach their kids or something.

AD: That’s fascinating, because I think the coaching, we had in Buffalo was really varied. Which players did you look up to in college or pro?

CB: I’m showing my age here but growing up I was a huge Dr. J guy when I started watching basketball, and then I was a Jordan guy obviously. Allen Iverson was more my age, so he was my favorite player once I got older. But at the time I didn’t know much about him because we were around the same age. I also have a weird one. My favorite college player was Greg Anthony. Most people would say, ‘Who?’ Greg Anthony was my favorite player back when the University of Nevada-Las Vegas (UNLV) had those great college teams. I wore number 50 which was an odd number for a guard, but that’s why I wore that number in high school.

AD: Yes, I remember you wearing that number. So, you had your eyes on the college teams. That’s interesting because Tim told me that he had his eyes on the Niagara Falls high school basketball teams, for the most part.

CB: As far as when I was younger, Modie was a couple of years older than me, so he was more like a peer. There was a guy named Mike Starks who played for LaSalle – he was amazing and one of the best guards that no one ever talks about. When I started going to LaSalle games, I was in the sixth and seventh grades. Me and my buddies would just go to games. We wanted to be the next Mike Starks. He was the guy that I looked up to around here basketball-wise.

AD: What was special about Michael’s game? Could he do everything?

CB: Man, he could do everything. He was 6’3”. He could jump, he could shoot, and he could handle the ball. He was the point guard and his game was rare back then. Your point guard was the guy to set guys up, but man he could shoot, he could get to the basket, and he could jump – he had the whole package.

AD: Okay. So that was the 1988 Class B Federation Championship team. It was loaded then because they had guys like Eric Gore.

CB: Yes, Eric Gore, Frank and Michael Starks, Elon McCracken, and Modie (he was young).

AD: Well obviously, you had Christian Laettner in the Niagara Frontier League (NFL) then, but were you aware of any of the Buffalo guys like Ritchie Campbell and Marcus Whitfield?

CB: Ritchie and Marcus were the two guys I’d always hear about in seventh grade and that’s when I started to play for LaSalle. Those dudes were amazing!

AD: And the JV team – Coach Rotundo oversaw that?

CB: Yep.

AD: Early on, what kind of player were you? Coach Monti described you as a ‘scoring’ guard. Were you that right away or did you have to grow into that role?

CB: I always thought I was a scorer and that was always my mentality, ever since I was younger. In my freshman year, I started on the JV team and was moved up midway through the season to play on the Varsity team. I knew that I wasn’t going to be a bigtime scorer on the Varsity level as a freshman or as a sophomore, because we just had so many senior guys.

I was a starter, but Coach Monti let you know your role. It’s something that’s lost today. Kids don’t have roles today and everyone thinks they’re a scorer and a star. I had to earn my minutes and if I got an open shot, I was happy because I knew that it was Modie’s, Milo’s, and Duke’s team, and I was there to play my role.

AD: What was your role? Was it to play defense on the other team’s best guy?

CB: No, I wasn’t the greatest defender, especially when I was in the ninth grade (laughing). He brought me in for offense as a freshman and I may have averaged around nine points a game or something which was decent back then. He basically brought me in and let me know that, ‘Hey, you’re basically here to score when the chance comes,’ so more than anything I was there to help offensively.

AD: Talk about playing for Coach Monti. After talking with him, I got the impression that he was very, very intense.

CB: Oh yeah. Very intense. Intense, but giving great attention to detail was his greatest asset. You never went into a game unprepared. You knew what was going to happen and you were either prepared through game plans he spent a bunch of time on, or you were prepared because of what we practiced and worked on every day.

There were things that he did that had me college-ready that I know other high schools weren’t doing at that time like defensively, positioning off the ball, how you play ‘one pass away’ and ‘two passes away’. Coaches around here weren’t teaching that. Everything was tight. Again, not knocking any of the college coaches. I played at two Division I schools and I always say that Coach Monti was the most knowledgeable coach that I’ve ever played for!

AD: Wow. Well let’s talk some ‘Xs and Os’. You said that you were brought on as a freshman and your role was to score. Coach Monti described LaSalle’s offense as unselfish – everyone sharing the ball. Tim basically did too. From the outside looking in, you seemed to be the featured guy. Were you guys running a ‘motion’ offense or were you running an ‘isolation’ for someone?

CB: I know it changed during Tim’s years and he let those guys ‘freelance’ more. Basically, our main offense in my freshman through my senior years was called “Flex”, which is a ‘dinosaur’ offense now, as no one really runs it anymore. It’s about ball movement, body movement, setting picks for each other. You were working with each other and there wasn’t a lot of ‘one on one’ stuff. It was basically five guys working together, and it was weird when we wouldn’t get open looks. Flex was one offense, but there were a million different ‘wrinkles’ in it.

So, it wasn’t like, ‘Okay here’s this one offense and if this one thing doesn’t work we’re shutdown.’ It was more like, ‘Okay, they took this away, so here’s the next option…..’ There were always four to five options to that one set where something was going to be open. That was our base offense for four years. We did a little bit of some other things, but we spent a ton of time on Flex and its different options and it worked for us.

AD: Before we move on, you got moved up as a freshman. Were all the guys you graduated with in the same group? I’m referring to guys like Curtis Ralands, Chris Frank, Todd Guetta and O’Neal Barnett – all the guys who were on the Varsity team when you were a junior and a senior. Were all of you on the JV team and you got moved up first? Or was it a gradual thing?

CB: I went up in the ninth grade. I don’t think the other guys came up until the eleventh grade. Shino Ellis may have played on the Varsity team in the tenth grade if I’m not mistaken – he was a year older than me. Todd, Chris, Curtis and those guys all came up in the eleventh grade. Curtis came over from Niagara Falls Senior High School, which was a boost for us. He played JV there and then ended up at LaSalle in the eleventh grade.

AD: What was so special about Curtis coming over? I remember the goggles, the bald head, and the intensity, but what would you say was his major contribution?

CB: Curtis was like our ‘enforcer’. He brought toughness to our team. He didn’t care if he scored 1 point or 20. He was going to do all the dirty work: rebounding the ball, defending and taking charges. He was definitely a Dennis Rodman-type.

AD: So you had your role as a freshman. Was it the same as a sophomore or did Coach Monti give you more ‘leash’?

CB: As a tenth grader I started the whole year. I had more leash, but it still obviously wasn’t my team. That year Modie, Cazzie, Scotty Rose, Anthony Wallace and myself were the starting five I believe. I had a larger role on offense and I think I was depended upon more to score because Modie was our guy – he was great at distributing – he was a pure point guard. If you ran the floor, you were going to get a bucket. Scotty played a lot more ‘down low’ and was probably our second leading scorer after Modie. On the wing I think I was our next guy, so I had a much bigger role in my sophomore year within the offense.

AD: That’s awesome. So, you got a lot of quality minutes early on. Were you there against Lancaster, and in the Far West Regionals against schools like East and McQuaid?

CB: Our 86-57 loss to McQuaid was the worst I’d ever taken in high school.

AD: What was so bad about it? Did you guys just have an off day?

CB: We had an off day and they had the big 7’ kid – I think his name was McKinney or something. They had size, but they also had these guards who were coming down and pulling up a step beyond NBA range. We just weren’t seeing that in our area in Section VI. It almost seemed like the perfect game for them and the worst game for us. Anything they shot up went in and it just snowballed on us. It was the worst game I’d played in as far as taking a loss in high school.

AD: So that was your sophomore year. Before you talk about your junior year, what kinds of things were you guys doing in the offseason? I know that was before Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) basketball got big.

CB: I can’t remember if I went to a camp that year or the next year. It was more so playing locally. There was the big travel-AAU type of thing. We’d go down to Philadelphia and play against Rasheed Wallace who went to North Carolina, and the Jason Lawson kid who went to Villanova. The Public Athletic League (PAL) tournaments used to be huge back then. The Head Coach at Niagara Falls High School now, Sal, was the one taking us on all the PAL trips back then. You played Division I guys from other cities, and that was sort of our AAU-thing back then.

AD: You said Sal?

CB: Yes, Sal Constantino. He was the PAL guy who took us on those trips to the big PAL tournaments back then which were huge.

AD: Going into your junior year, Modie and his fellow seniors graduated so it was basically your team. What was your mentality going into that year?

CB: I knew what we had, and not being cocky, but I thought we were going to be very good. A lot of people didn’t know what we had, but I knew. We had Shino, Todd, Curtis and Chris Frank – we had guys who could play basketball. But our Varsity program was so good that those guys didn’t get a chance to play yet. Our JV teams were awesome, they got awesome coaching and they came out of the system, so we had guys who could really play basketball. Now, we wound up losing only one game. I didn’t think we were going to be that good, but we had a good run until we played John Wallace.

AD: Okay, we’re going to get to John Wallace and Greece-Athena shortly (laughing). Your team ran mostly the Flex offense, but it seemed like you were the guy. You were LaSalle’s leading scorer. Was that just something the team understood – that you would be the number one option – or did Coach Monti make that explicitly clear from day one?

CB: Coach Monti made no reservations about letting guys know their roles. It was, ‘Shino and Carlos are going to be our two scorers and everyone else is going to fit in where we fit them in!’ We had a guy named O’Neal Barnett who knew that he was going to come in and defend our opponent’s best guy. Some nights he’d score 2 points and some nights he’s score 10 points, but he could care less. He knew that he was going to come in and lock down our next guy and he was fine with that.

We had Curtis who knew that he was going to come in and just grab every rebound. Coach Monti would have talks at the beginning of the year, and the middle of the year. There wasn’t any question of who was going to be doing what or what their role was. It was laid out and you knew what was going to happen.

AD: Wow. So everyone accepted their roles.

CB: Yes, everybody bought in and I think that’s just because of the success of the program. If you’re winning every year, it’s easy to sell that to kids. If he was losing every year, I don’t think it would’ve happened.

AD: So you guys went on to go 23-0. You beat us, and you started that year winning the Corning Cup in Albany, NY and, Carlos, I’ve got a funny story. Were you a trash-talker? The reason I’m asking is because in the Class B-1 quarterfinal in 1992, we matched up with the Niagara Falls Power Cats at LaSalle’s gym. In the lobby, the trophy case had individual polaroids of you and your teammates standing there posing in each of photos because you were undefeated at that point and riding a lot of momentum.

One of our seniors – this a true story – saw your picture in the case and he said, ‘Man. I can’t stand that Bleepedy-Bleep!’ I looked at your picture and I looked at him, and I said to myself, ‘This person must’ve have been guarding Carlos Bradberry when we played LaSalle, and maybe Carlos was jawing at him.

CB: Yeah, (laughing) I was, and I forgot to mention that another one of my favorite players was Gary Payton. You watch him play and you’re going to pick up some things from him. It’s funny because Coach Monti used to say that I was this quiet and reserved guy, but once I got on the court it was different. I was a different animal and I’d consider myself a trash-talker for sure.

AD: Now, was that you or was Coach Monti rubbing off on you? I got the sense that he was very, very confident and I imagine that was contagious.

CB: I think it was just me. It was never predetermined or preplanned, and once you get into that moment you get so focused and lose yourself on the basketball court. I was raised with a bunch of uncles and cousins who were hard on me. We went to the basketball court and they’re talking junk to you, they’re beating up on you, and you learn how to be tough and not back down and that’s how it manifested itself for me.

AD: In the 1992 Class B-1 Sectional Final at UB’s Alumni Arena, we had just lost to Grand Island and as we were exiting the court, your team came charging out in a single-file line. You were at the front, and I remember reaching out and ‘dapping’ you up. You had the ball in one hand, saw me and we slapped hands and then you went into your pregame warmup before going on to defeat Williamsville North that night 62-52.

After defeating Williamsville North, your team advanced to the Far West Regional against Section V’s Class A Champion, Greece-Athena from the Rochester area. They were also 23-0 and they were calling the game the “Meeting of the Perfect Strangers”. Rochester is basically our ‘sister’ city and it’s only an hour away. Did you know about John Wallace ahead of time?

CB: I heard of him, but social media wasn’t big back then so I may have heard his name, but I didn’t know him like that until Coach Monti showed the video and we started to scout for them and I was like, ‘HOLY COW!’ It was ridiculous what you were watching. But no, I didn’t really have a beat on the Rochester and Syracuse guys. I just knew the Niagara Falls and Buffalo guys.

AD: So the team was able to watch the film before the game. What stood out to you?

CB: He was dunking on everybody. He was blocking everybody’s shot. For me it was exciting because I knew that we would get into it at some point during the game, because it was in my competitive nature and his. We did get into it at some point, but I hadn’t played against anything like that personally in our area. We didn’t have a guy like that, so seeing him on video – what he was doing at 6’9” was ridiculous. Back then, 6’9” guys weren’t popping out shooting jump shots like he was, and going ‘inside-out’. I just knew we were going to have our hands full.

AD: Yes, there weren’t any big men like that here. Well actually, weren’t Kevin Sanford and Eric Eberz at that level?

CB: Yes, Kevin was close. Maybe I played against him in a few leagues, but I never played against him in a real high school basketball game and didn’t see him much. So it was just different seeing that.

AD: Leading up to the game, did you have ‘butterflies’? Or did it feel like this was just another game?

CB: I think our whole team was confident, but we all had butterflies every single game. That game was no different and I think we all went in thinking that we had the game plan and that we would win it. Somehow someway we were going to make it happen. We did for a half (laughing).

AD: When you guys went out for the jump ball, you saw that he had “DA MAN” cut on the back of his head (laughing). You know what’s funny, is that both Coach Monti and Tim Winn mentioned that with a bit of snark. So the fact that he cut that on the back of his head, even 25 years later, really seemed to stick with them. In general, did that strike you as being arrogant?

CB: Oh, I was pissed off and Coach Monti made a point of it too. He’d play mind games with us to piss us off. He’d say, ‘Look at this guy. He’s got DA MAN on the back of his head!’ I was ready to go nuts just when I saw him. I was thinking this dude thinks he’s really that guy. I got enraged before the game because we were all sitting in the stands watching the game before ours and he’s laying down sleeping in the stands! I’m going nuts saying, ‘Look at this dude, he’s over there sleeping, and he’s got play us!’ Everything he did made me go sort of nuts, but he backed everything up though.

AD: One last question about the game. As Coach Monti pointed out, you guys were right there with Greece-Athena for three quarters and it was close. What happened?

CB: As I remember it, and Coach Monti probably has a better memory than me, I think we were either down two or tied at the half and I know that at that time Greece-Athena was playing us in a regular “man to man” defense. If they had done that for the rest of the game they would’ve lost. At the half, I think we had 27 points. I had 10 points and Shino had 15, so we had 25 of our 27 points.

Their Coach did a great job and came out in a “Triangle and Two” on Shino and me, so we didn’t score a point in the second half; they basically took us away. Our other guys got the open looks and shots we wanted, but they just didn’t fall. Their Coach wasn’t going to let Shino or me win that game that night. I kicked myself numerous times afterwards wondering what I could’ve done to be more aggressive and if Shino and I could’ve done more. But the fact of the matter is that it was a good move for their Coach and it worked out for them that night.

AD: You know, I taped that game. I watched it at home and, unfortunately, didn’t go. After watching it and thinking about how you guys beat us handily all summer long, I thought about how I wanted to get on the court and play against you the next year. First, I got injured and secondly, they flipped the brackets. So we opened against Niagara Falls Senior High School in the Festival of Lights Tournament. They narrowly beat us and you played them again while we played in the consolation game again against Bennett. I’m not sure how much of a difference I would’ve made (laughing), but I was at least looking forward to getting on the court with you.

In part two of this interview, Carlos talks about his senior year at LaSalle, his college career, and then life after basketball. Thank you for taking the time to read this interview. If you enjoyed it, you might also enjoy:

Niagara Falls basketball legend Time Winn discusses playing in the LaSalle basketball dynasty part one
Niagara Falls Coaching Legend Pat Monti discusses building, and leading the LaSalle basketball dynasty part one
Jason Rowe discusses Buffalo Traditional Basketball, the Yale Cup and State Tournaments
Lasting lessons basketball taught me: Reflections on three years of basketball camp
Lasting Lessons basketball taught me: An introduction

If you’ve found value here and think it will benefit others, please share it and/or leave a comment. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right-hand column in this post and throughout the site or add the link to RSS feed to your feedreader. Lastly, follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

Is there power in budgeting your money?

“You want to account for everything you spend and always keep your receipts son!”

Note. Like my Compounding Interest and Net Worth pieces, the subject matter of this blog post is not new. It has been known for years by those who’ve learned about it in their families, learned about its concepts in business school, or who have discovered it on their own. It’s a discussion from my personal perspective which I think is worth visiting. In the spirit of the first principle of my blog, Creating Ecosystems of Success, I’m simply introducing a concept and discussing why it’s important for the lay person, so they can make their own life choices.

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As described in my piece entitled, I still don’t have a car in 2018, a good friend recommended that I craft something regarding budgeting. That piece described a key budgetary decision I made several years ago to fortify my financial future. In that piece I highlighted several financial vocabulary words which are pertinent to budgeting including: Assets, Cash Flow, Liabilities and Minimalism. In this piece, I’ll get down into the actual ‘nuts and bolts’ of budgeting.

“You know I always stay within my budget, honey,” my Auntie Adeline said to me on numerous occasions throughout our lives. Of my Aunts and Uncles, Auntie Adeline was always the most vigilant about staying within her budget and messing with her budget was literally playing with your life! Mom was also wise with her money and budgeted.

“You want to account for everything you spend and always keep your receipts son!” Dad was also very particular about his money and was very meticulous about where every dollar went. Though not formally trained in budgeting, I got the sense from many relatives that keeping track of where my dollars went was important. I started budgeting in my mid- to late-twenties though not effectively as I’ll describe later.

Simply put, a budget is a means of numerically accounting for tracking the money you earn and how much you spend every month. As described in earlier pieces, I have considerable experience with Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University (FPU). In it, Dave refers to a budget simply as a ‘Cash Flow Plan’ where you’re telling your money what to do and where to go. I’m going to come back to Dave, but first I’m going to tell you about one of my experiences.

“I don’t keep a budget and I don’t have the patience to do so every month!” These words were typed by someone who’ll remain anonymous in one of my text groups. A regular budgeter now myself, I came very closer to challenging his position, but I decided that it wasn’t worth it. From experience it’s not wise to argue with people who have taken staunch positions on things to try to get them to see your point of view. Sometimes it’s best to just let them be and let them figure it out on their own, if at all.

What this person’s comments showed was that while budgeting is important, there’s a negative view of it for some. In fact, in Trish Reske’s article entitled, How Many Americans Use a Budget?, she cites data from a 2017 study by U.S. Bank which found that 41% of Americans said they used a budget while whopping and 59% said they did not. That number was up from data reported by Gallup in 2013 which stated that only 32% of Americans used a budget.

Again, a budget simply a written plan where you’re telling your money where to go and what to do. You’re looking at what’s coming in and what’s going out and trying to figure out what’s leftover, if anything. What are the two skills you need for this important exercise? You need something we all learned in the first or second grade; the ability to add and subtract. You also need discipline and the abilities to think, and to sit and plan.

Okay, get ready for the magic. Specifically, you want to look at your monthly income and subtract your monthly expenses from it. If you’re working a 40-hour work week, this should be relatively simple. If you get paid weekly, you should get four paychecks every month and if you get paid bi-weekly, you’ll get roughly two pay checks a month. The Federal Government has 26 pay periods a year, so there are two months when employees get paid three times.

Your income is your ‘Net Pay’ – your pay after all your deductions and retirement savings have come out – that’s if you’re saving into your retirement which is a different story. Underneath that number you want to list out your monthly expenses. The difference between your income and your expenses is called your ‘Cash Flow’, and that’s the money you have left to spend in any way you see fit. This sounds straightforward right? Well actually it depends.

This is a good place to introduce two new vocabulary words; “Surplus” and “Deficit” – concepts I recall first hearing about from Presidents Bill Clinton, and then later argued about by Al Gore and George W. Bush as they battled for the 2000 Presidency. Financially when you run a Budgetary Surplus, you have money left over once all your expenses and obligations are paid for. This is where you want to be – your expenses being less than your income, and you want them to be as low as possible.

If you’re running a Budgetary Deficit, your expenses are exceeding your income. This is where you don’t want to be. Here you either must: make more money, cut your expenses, or borrow and go into debt to cover your expenses – the worst option of the three.

If you haven’t been budgeting, you must start from scratch. Where do you start? First you need a way to create and track the budget. You could do it on paper with a pen or pencil which will be cumbersome and time consuming initially, but it’s okay to start here just as long as you start. There’s also software like Quicken or Quickbooks. I simply use Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, but it’s up to you. You want to be able to adjust the numbers easily.

Second you need to know how much money you have coming in weekly and monthly and I think we all know that. The fun part is figuring out what your expenses are. If you don’t know where to start for your expenses, first think about what Dave Ramsey calls your ‘Four Walls’: clothing, food, shelter and transportation. These are your basics. Think about everything else after these four.

If you’ve been swiping either your credit or debit cards, go to your online banking accounts and see what your averages are. My high school basketball coach always used to tell us that, “We are creatures of habit!” In this case you’ll probably find that there are trends and patterns in your spending – the amount of times you go to Starbucks and what you get there, the restaurants you frequent, the amount of gas you put in your car every week, etc. Some months such as November and December may take you out of your normal spending patterns so be aware of those unusual months or times of the year. The end of the summer is another noticeable time, as people like to take vacations.

Once you see what your averages are, ask yourself if there are ways you can cut back. Can you catch more sales? Can you bring your lunch to work? Do you absolutely need to upgrade your phone or your car along with everyone else? Are there discounts you can take advantage of (being a senior, being military, being a government employee, etc.)? Do you need to make more money at least temporarily to pay off excess debt, for example? These are all questions you should start asking yourself when doing your budget. This brings me to my next point.

If you haven’t been living on a budget, and want to start one, it helps to have goals in mind. Do you want to retire one day? Do you want to become financially free? Do you want to not have to hit your friends and relatives up for cash whenever you get into a jam? These are all questions you should ask yourself. Not having to ask friends and relatives for money ever again is a huge motivator for me.

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I described this in my last financial blog post entitled, I still don’t have a car in 2018. There I described how I got rid of my car and held off on getting another one so that I could grow an Emergency Fund and get to the point where I could acquire some investments. I also wanted to make sure I’d have a chance to retire one day.

For at least a year, I thought about what I needed to do to be able to save 15% into my retirement account going forward. When I looked at my budget, I did the math and figured out how much money I’d have to save into my retirement account from my first and second paychecks of the month to consistently do it. I then looked at what I could cut from my expenses and my eyes focused on my Cable bill which, at the time, was a whopping $176 per month.

Think about that. That’s $2,112 per year – money that could’ve been ‘compounding’ somewhere. I finally got to the point where I was willing simply use an antenna signal and just kept my landline and internet access which came to $90 a month – that’s a 50% savings which gave me the extra money to save into my retirement account. It felt strange at first, but it was very necessary, and I was okay watching Star Trek reruns every night.

I’m going to close with three points from Dave Ramsey because I’ve helped teach Financial Peace University and know it well. The first is the ‘Zero-Based Budget’. The key tenet of this term is, “giving every dollar a name.” That is, if you’ve done your budget and you have money left over, you should assign it a name like “Extra Discretionary Spending” or “Money For The Next Check” – don’t just leave it there because it will get spent on something random.

Consider using cash for at least some of your purchases – “Discretionary Spending” and “Eating Out” for example are two categories I use. Using cash may be scary at first as our world has become digital to the point where we pull out plastic and swipe everything using credit and debit cards. The problem with that is that you don’t ‘feel’ the money leaving your possession and are more likely to spend – businesses know this and bet on it. Using cash helps you feel the transaction, but it’s also the fact that its finite, and it exerts more control over your budget and overall spending.

Lastly, as Dave points out in the budgeting lesson, it takes about three months or so to get into a rhythm to the point where you’re budgeting effectively. The first couple of months aren’t going to be very good, but if you stick in there, eventually you’ll start to roll. Keep in mind your motivation for doing this. And lastly, once you get good at it and you’re able to use the budget to plan over a series of months, you’ll see some really great things happen in your life.

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Perhaps the most important point to make in all of this is that while you’re budgeting and working towards your goal, you must still allow yourself to have some fun. That’s going to vary depending upon you and your lifestyle. Whether it’s concerts, the movies, or if you have a restaurant you like, you can’t completely choke yourself off from pleasurable things because that’s not sustainable long-term – like dieting.

Earlier I briefly mentioned the concept of an Emergency Fund. I must mention this because these things all go together: budgeting, emergency savings, retirement savings, and investments. While this piece is about budgeting, having emergency savings is arguably the most critical component. It protects your budget when life’s inevitable and unforeseen emergencies come crashing into you – some by your doing and some not. Ideally you eventually want three to six months or more saved. How do you build your emergency savings? You budget for it!

Who should budget? Everyone should. There’s a saying out there that you should run your personal finances like a business and when you think about it, each of our households are mini-businesses where some are getting steadily wealthier and others are going further into the hole.
If you’re an entrepreneur and have a business idea, or you’ve already started your business, you should have a budget because the control of your capital and expenses are critical. Everyone should do it if even just to avoid paying the banks overdraft fees. According Julia Chang from Forbes, Americans paid $34 Billion to the banks in overdraft fees in 2017, and this is something the banks count on.

One last important piece from FPU – maybe the most important. In the budgeting lesson Dave describes both budgetary ‘Nerds’ and ‘Free Spirits’. The former enjoys sitting down with the numbers and doing the budget while the other doesn’t and naturally lives with reckless abandon. I’m absolutely and proudly a Nerd and enjoy going over the numbers, making everything balance and doing the planning. If you’re a Free Spirit this might all seem unnatural for you, at least initially, and you may need someone’s guidance and encouragement. Ultimately, it goes back to your drivers and goals. What are you pushing for and how badly do you want it?

So that’s my take on budgeting. I hope you were able to get something beneficial from this. Again, there many, many financial writers and teachers and FPU is but one. It has worked well for me and I recommend it. However, for you someone else or something else might work better. I also enjoy reading Michelle Singletary’s work for example.  No matter who you learn it from though, the principles remain – you want to make smart and wise decisions with your money.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. If you enjoyed it, you might also enjoy:

•  Your net worth, your gross salary, and what they mean
A look at the Law of Compounding Interest and why you should care
The difference between being cheap and frugal
We should’ve bought Facebook and Bitcoin stock: An investing story
Challenging misconceptions and stereotypes in class, household income, wealth and privilege
My personal experience with Dave Ramsey’s Debt Snowball revisited
Mother’s Day 2017: One of my mother’s greatest gifts, getting engaged, and avoiding my own personal fiscal cliff

If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right-hand column in this post and throughout the site, or by adding the link to my RSS feed to your feedreader. Lastly follow me on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, on Instagram at @anwaryusef76, and at the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

Johnson C. Smith University opens its new center for multidisciplinary STEM education and research revisited

I originally published this piece on October 23, 2015 – a shorter version on the Examiner and then this extended version on Dr. Matthew Lynch’s Edvocate. My alma mater Johnson C. Smith University had recently opened its new Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) center at Homecoming 2015. It was a very impressive facility compared to those that were available to me and my classmates when I was a student there from 1995-99.

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“The collaboration was strong between the administration, the faculty, and the students to make sure that we had a building that not just reflected the heritage and history of the past, but also what the future would be for this great University,” said Harvey Gantt, one of many speakers on hand for the opening of Johnson C. Smith University’s (JCSU) new Science Center. “Dr. Carter actually had a lot to do with choosing the design approach,” Mr. Gantt continued. “We gave him several alternatives, and when we showed him a rendering of this elevation of the building, in less than 10 seconds, he said, ‘That’s what I want on this campus!’”

On Friday, Oct. 23, JCSU opened its new Science Center with a Grand Opening and Ribbon Cutting ceremony as a part of its 2015 Homecoming festivities. The ceremony took place on the walkways between the University’s new structure and its older Rufus Perry Science Hall. The ceremony consisted of:

• A welcome by Monroe Miller (Chairman of the JCSU Board of Trustees);
• An invocation by current student Sydney Henry (Class of 2017, Biology and Chemistry);
• Remarks by: Steve Keckeis (Vice President of Messer Construction), Malcolm Davis and Harvey Gantt (Principal and Principal Emeritus of Bergman Associates), student Jennifer-Lynn Phipps (Class of 2016, Computer Science Information Systems), and Charlie Lucas (Board Member of The Duke Endowment) and finally;
• Closing Remarks by Dr. Ronald L. Carter (President of JCSU).

“The time has now come to cut the ribbon to a new world experience. I can just hear the voices of the freedman who put the bricks in place by night over at Biddle Hall. As they look over here, I can hear them saying this day, ‘Well done! Well done! Well done! Our future holds high,” said Dr. Carter during his closing remarks prior to chanting three times, “J-C!,” to which the audience replied, “S-U!,” the signature call and response of the University’s students and alumni.

While the new Science Center will now be the hub on campus for all scientific coursework and research, the older Perry Science Hall will now be the home for the new Metropolitan College, JCSU’s new department for educating non-traditional students. Some features of the new Science Center include:

• 10 fully equipped labs for Biology, Chemistry and Physics courses and research;
• Four Centers for new science and technology curricula including: the Center for Renewable Energy and Sustainability, the Center for Bioinformatics/Biotechnology, the Center for Medical Informatics, and the Center for Analytical Research and;
• Seven classrooms of various sizes and setups which stay true to JCSU’s commitment to small class sizes and individualized faculty attention.

“This building has been a vision for almost five years. Magdy Attia, Perrin Foster, Monroe Miller, Tom Baldwin and I would sit and dream about it. We knew that it had to be somewhere here on this part of the campus. That vision just had a momentum and Magdy would sentence it in very eloquent ways such that donors started paying attention and saying, ‘This can be done,’” Dr. Carter said afterwards during the open house. Throughout the ceremony, he and the other speakers emotionally paid homage to Dr. Magdy Attia who recently passed away. Dr. Attia, once a Computer Science faculty member and then an Administrator, was a key figure in the conception of the new Science Center.

“Opportunity awaits those who want to work,” said Jennifer-Lynn Phipps in closing to the audience at the ceremony. Ms. Phipps will graduate in 2016, and then work for John-Deere as an Information Technology Integrator. “Remember Smithites we are not only here to smash the mold, but we’re also here to develop ourselves and change the world!”

One of the more intriguing aspects of the new Science Center is the Center for Renewable Energy and Sustainability. The Center is focusing its work on: Wind, Solar and Bio-fuels, and Food Security, specifically helping lower income communities have better access to quality food. Dr. Philip Otienoburu is in large part the University’s expert in Environmental Science issues, a distinction once held by the late Dr. Joseph Fail, Jr.

“It’s all about energy sustainability. We’re looking at future generations and how the environment is going to be protected from the different things that we do to it,” said Dr. Philip Otienoburu. “Long-term sustainability involves not only environmental issues but also social and economic issues as well. How are people going to build resilient communities as the climate changes for instance? How are people going to feed themselves? As you will see a lot of our programs here involve, ‘Food Security.’ This is why we have the Aquaponics and Community garden which is a partnership between JCSU and the surrounding neighborhoods.”

Aquaponics is a polyculture system of agriculture where you grow crops and cultivate fish in one closed loop. The waste produced by the fish, which is for the most part Ammonia, is used to fertilize the crops,” said Dr. Phillip Otienoburu discussing a component of the University’s Energy

Sustainability research work. “In Aquaponics, you use bacteria to make the biological conversions to convert Ammonia into Nitrites, and then the Nitrites into Nitrates which the plants need to grow. We’ve been doing this for about three years now during which we have expanded into Haiti, where we were looking to help communities that were devastated by the earthquake in 2010.”

“The science education here at JCSU has become much more technologically advanced since the late 1990s. As you can see in this building the instruments have become much smaller and in some ways more affordable and we’re able to generate more data. That said, it still involves engaging nature, collecting data and constructing good experiments,” said veteran Chemistry Professor, Dr. Timothy Champion.

“While we still have quite a few students coming in wanting to do Pre-Med, some do change their minds and think about getting Ph.D.s once they have a chance engage the science and do some research,” Dr. Champion continued. “At least in the Biology and Chemistry side though, we also need to prepare some of them for the job market. We can’t fall into the trap of trying to produce copies of ourselves – that is more Ph.D.s. If a student doesn’t go to a Graduate or Professional school there are still jobs out there, so a lot of what you’re here seeing is our wanting to build more sellable skills for the students that they can immediately apply to the job market.”

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As you can see below, I wrote a story about how I earned my STEM degree which focused on my graduate studies at the University of Michigan, post JCSU. I’m currently working on a piece revisiting what I learned at JCSU as it was a also a valuable part of my journey. There were numerous learning points there scientifically.

If you’re a JCSU alumnus and have a background in one of the STEMs, I’m starting a Facebook group called “JCSU Alumni STEM”. I envision it as an ecosystem where we as alumni can give back to JCSU’s current students through: answering any questions, helping them find jobs, and also simply serving as a science forum for the Golden Bull community. If you have something to offer, please join when the group opens up.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post. If you enjoyed this one, you might also enjoy:

The story of how I earned my STEM degree as a minority
A look at STEM: What are the Basic Sciences and Basic Research?
The transferrable skills from a doctoral degree in the basic sciences
• A look at STEM: What is Regulatory Science?
• A look at STEM: What is Inhalation Toxicology?
• A look at STEM: What is Toxicology?
• A look at STEM: What is Pharmacology?

If you’ve found value here and think it will benefit others, please share it and/or leave a comment. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right-hand column in this post and throughout the site, or add the link to my RSS feed to your feedreader. Lastly, follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

The Relevance of Revision: Prepare Better For Your Next Exam

The first principle of my blog is Creating Ecosystems of Success and a key focus is General Education. Most high achieving students have a specific set of keys they follow to excel which low achieving students don’t. Understanding and incorporating these keys will generate better results for both high school and college students. The title of the following contributed post is thus entitled; The Relevance of Revision: Prepare Better For Your Next Exam.

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Pic credit

When you think about the student lifestyle, it’s probably a vision of fun and relaxation that comes to mind. You roll out of bed late, attend a couple of seminars and then hit the pubs and clubs with your friends- what could be stressful about that? However, the reality of being a student in any capacity is much different. Particularly towards the ends of terms and during exam season when coursework and exams are looming over your head. It’s incredibly stressful as there’s so much pressure involved. All of the time, money and effort you’ve spent learning a subject all comes down to how well you perform in these set tests. If you find that you’re just not good at exams, don’t stress as there are things that can be done. If you go about it in the right way, you can walk into your exams knowing that you’ve put the work in and all of the information and knowledge is in your head. Here’s how you can go about it.

Attend all of your lectures and seminars
If you want to to well in your exams, it makes sense that you’ll attend all of the lessons, lectures and seminars throughout the year. This allows you to learn each topic in depth and ensure you fully understand it. As a student, it’s easy to miss lectures- too much alcohol the night before, staying up too late or just being lazy can have you thinking ‘I’ll miss this one and catch up.’ The trouble is, when you come to revise, you end up having to teach yourself the entire topic. If the work is complex then you might struggle doing this, and it generally adds a lot of stress and extra time to your revision schedule. Make sure that you’re attending all of the set classes, if you do find that you’re stuck or not following, arrange a session with your tutor or at least send them an email asking them to answer the questions that you have. If you skim over it, it will only come back to bite you later on, everything you’re being taught in the course could be on the exam so you need to know it. One way to make sure you’re really getting the most out of your lect

Get as much one-to-one help as you can
If your tutor is offering one-to-one sessions to answer students questions or running smaller study groups then take advantage of this. In larger lectures there are so many other people in there that you don’t always get the chance to ask everything that you need to know. In smaller groups, you and others can ask questions and also learn from each other. Your tutor is likely to be very busy, but if you are able to squeeze in any time with them it can be highly beneficial, even if it’s just a few minutes to answer your questions after a lecture.

Set up student study sessions
Speaking of smaller student study groups, if these don’t already exist at your college or university then why not set something up? Thanks to social media it’s easy to connect with your classmates, you could always set up a group with a time and date and invite people to join. There will be places in the university you could go, or you could go to a coffee shop or even a cafe and set yourselves up in one corner. It’s a chance for you to test yourselves, talk through different topics and can even help you to settle your nerves if you know there are others in the same boat as you. Set up flash cards and challenge each other, compare notes and generally get as clued up as you can about the topics on the exam. Whether it’s a group of three or a group of twenty, these kinds of sessions could really help you all.

Create a revision timetable
One of the most important things about revising is spending enough time covering each topic. One of the best ways to do this is to draw up a revision timetable- and stick to it. Work out how many topics you have, and how long you have until the exam. Then you can split up the time, and then divide up each topic however you see fit. In some tests such as the IAS exam, it will be made up of a number of parts, so you’ll need to make sure you’re prepared for each section. You can read more about this online. It’s crucial that you’re realistic in your timetable, you still need time each day to relax, socialise and do other things outside of revision so that you don’t end up completely burned out. But on the other hand, everything needs to be covered properly or you’ll end up cramming and stressing at the last minute.

Minimise distractions
When you have something unpleasant that needs to be done (namely, revise for exams) it’s easy to find any way you can to avoid this. You might not even realise you’re doing it, but end up putting other tasks before your revision. Some people even end up doing tasks they’d normally avoid (such as cleaning or laundry!) as in their minds, it’s better than revising. Minimise distractions, go to your study area and make a note of the time. Turn off the tv and your phone, and use a browser that isn’t’ logged into any social media to avoid you mindlessly clicking on it. Study for the amount of time you’ve decided without anything else taking your mind off it.

Keep stress down
Finally, revising in a highly stressed state isn’t going to benefit you. Exams are stressful, but you need to find ways to cope and manage things. Take a hot bath each evening, meditate or exercise. With a clear head you’ll find things go in and stay there much more easily. Which is exactly what you want when you’re revising!

How to Encourage Your Kid’s Computer Interest

Two of the focuses of my blog are General Education and Technology. The current younger generations and those that will follow them will all come of age in a digital world. With all of the distractions available online, it will also be important encourage their constructive use of the computers around them. The following contributed post is thus entitled; How to Encourage Your Kid’s Computer Interest.

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Sure, most teenagers wouldn’t need much encouragement when it comes to sitting around in front of the computer all day. Yet, browsing for cat memes and watching funny videos on YouTube isn’t quite what you have in mind for your kids’ career in terms of computer science – and there is a lot more to computers than just popular culture, after all.

Image by: Pexels

If you’d like to help your teenager out with understanding complex computer issues and building up under their interest, you have definitely come to the right place.

Here is a handful of ways to encourage your teenager’s or child’s computer interest and make sure that they stay up to date on everything that is going on in the world of computer science.

First: Make it a social activity

A lot of children who grew up in the ‘80s and ‘90s didn’t have many people who help them out with understanding computers. Perhaps you had it the same way – and building your own computer or learning to code was something you had to do on your own.

This doesn’t mean that your kid has to have it the same way, though, and just because you had to learn it this way doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily the best way to learn a new skill. When learning how to code is a social activity rather than something they have to do alone in their room, it’s suddenly a lot more fun – and definitely a lot easier to learn.

These days, there are a ton of people who know a lot about the subject and you can easily find someone to help your kid out in case you’re not a computer nerd yourself. Find a mentor, for example, who can guide your kid – or see if there are any courses around in case one of their friends would like to join them.

It’s going to be a lot easier for them to stick to it when they’re learning together with a friend, after all, and they will learn it a lot faster as well.

Next: Tap into your kid’s passion

Coding is, as we know, applied to a lot of different things and you should try to help and guide your kid in the right direction if they don’t know what their passion is quite yet.

Your kid might enjoy game design more than building and operating a small robot, for example, or perhaps it’s the other way around. They might enjoy building a website instead – or just read up on everything around cyber security.

No matter what they prefer, there are vast resources that you can use to help them explore their way to their talents. Here are some excellent hacker movies you can watch together, by the way, so that you get to be involved in their interest even if you’re not that into computer science yourself.

Being young is all about finding your path in life and becoming better at what you enjoy. Help your kid out with finding his or her way and you’ll have built a great foundation for them and their future careers.

Teaching The Youth How To React To Authority

Two of the focuses of my blog are General Education and Mentoring. In recent years, there are have been several publicized fatal encounters with Law Enforcement. In these instances, there are a lot of dynamics happening at once and the wrong actions or words can impact the outcome. As civilians coming into contact with Law Enforcement, are there actions that can be taken to avoid escalation? The following contributed post is entitled, Teaching The Youth How To React To Authority.

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For many young men, a figure out authority is seen as a figure of oppression. It’s an easy way to think because that person is telling you what to do. However, without the authority figures in their lives, children grow up to behave in a manner that is reckless. Mentoring the youth is something every adult should be trying to do and help in achieving. You can’t expect the government to be the parent of children that are lost and come from a rundown home. That is a big problem in many cities and towns where there are young boys and girls that have never had a father. Even if they did, sometimes fathers can be aloof and not very interested in what they do so children seem to not care what they are told to do. If you can mentor a young child how to behave, you will give them the mental tools to be successful in like. They can take that attitude and put it into business, be their own boss and respect authority. Law and order, the courts, common courtesy are all things that need to be respected as they are effectively neutral. So how do you instil respect within the youth for authority?

It works for them too

Here’s a very simple mental exercise you can do with the youth that you meet, whether it’s in school, your own children, or with the local youth groups where you live. Sit them down and ask them what would they do if there weren’t any police or laws? Most of the time they will say that they will have to take care of each other as there is no singular rulebook that is followed by everyone. This is going back to the tribe way of living which is the early beginning of civilization. Next ask them how would they take care of each other in the circumstance that one of the tribe hurts another? They will eventually say that there needs to be a trial and evidence before they mete out justice. This is when you interject and show them that, this is what law and order is about. It works in their favor too, it’s not about targeting someone, but making sure everyone plays by the same rules.

Don’t panic

Sometimes you also have to teach the parents along with the youth what they should do to help each other. It’s common for youth to be arrested and taken into custody for doing minor violations such as causing a disturbance due to loud music. However, all too often members of the youth can lash out at the police and this causes their charge list to grow into something major. Inform the parents to consider bail bonds if their child has been picked up and held in jail. Bail bonds are there to be used by people who don’t have enough money at the present time to pay for their son or daughter to be released from a holding cell.

The youth and parents need to talk about authority and what law and order is. More people need to mentor the young and show them that they need to think about society’s early beginning.