When Dr. Mark Vaughn, a 2007 BEYA winner, was asked to be the guest speaker for the High Tech Sunday podcast, he looked at technology through the lens of a “family man, community leader, earth scientist, and ordained minister.”
In a time when digital information is more critical than ever, the program brought a concentrated discussion around technological advancements and achievements based on universal moral principles.
Dr. Vaughn is currently a manager for technical talent pipelining and lead for Corning’s Office of STEM. In this role, he is responsible for coordinating campus relations and college recruiting, working in collaboration with human resources managers, chiefs of staff, and delivery officers.
Vaughn began his 32-year career with Corning in 1988 as a Research Technician. Prior to accepting his current appointment, he was a research associate in modeling and simulation. In addition to his work with Corning, Dr. Vaughn, who is an ordained minister, is a community leader who previously or currently serves on several Boards of Directors including the United Way of the Southern Tier, WSKG (TV and Radio) and Catholic Charities of Steuben County. He was also twice elected to serve on the Corning-Painted Post Board of Education.
More on Dr. Vaughn’s words:
“It’s an honor to be afforded the opportunity to participate in this really special community of practice. This is a technology community forum that in my opinion couldn’t be more timely. I must say, that I have had the great pleasure of being part of the Black Engineer of the Year Awards and Women of Color family for a decade and a half now—more than that—under the umbrella of Career Communications Group. And I know first hand, and I have been impressed by and grateful for, the visionary leadership of Dr. Tyrone Taborn and the enthusiastic pursuit of innovative excellence that he and his team are demonstrating day in and day out.
“An example of this pursuit of innovation is, of course, the first-ever hybrid Women of Color STEM Conference experience that’s coming up in October. Now, I know we’re in June and we think that October is so far away. But, let me remind us all, that somehow we woke up back on Monday and found ourselves in June already.
“As I reflected on the theme for this year’s unique offering, which is “Reset to Rise: The World is Counting On Us,” it was not lost on me that right now, as we speak, the world is indeed counting on us. And the world is watching. They’re watching how we as a nation are dealing with yet another case of obvious, inexplicably overt inhumanity that tragically took the life of George Floyd. They are watching us and how we are handling the crisis that has become commonly known as Corona. They’re watching us and what they see is up to all of us.
“So, as a 55 and by God’s grace, a soon-to-be 56-year-old Black man in America, who is a husband to one and the same wife for nearly 34 years—the father of five, father-in-love of two and Pop-Pop of two; who is also an ordained minister, as you mentioned, for 22 years, and an ordained bishop with an international pastoral fellowship for thirteen years; a man who grew up in poverty in a single-parent home with a strong black mama who never went to college, a man who started out in remedial classes, but still went on to earn a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from arguably one of the top engineering schools in the world—I’ve learned to be adept at juggling the many hats that I wear: Family man, community leader, earth scientist, minister, American.
“Nevertheless, events of homicides like George Floyd and even the exaggerated call for help by Central Park Karen, the same day, serves as reminders that for many there is still just one hat that they see when they see me: a Black man. A black man in America, who for all his education, and extensive track record of contributions and accomplishments, including, probably, by the way, being a proud winner of a 2007 Black Engineer of the Year Award, is still a man of color who experiences the micro and sometimes not so micro-inequities of race just about every day. A black father who still has to have the talk with his grown sons before they go on vacation or even go to hang out with friends after dark.
“Indeed, the untimely death of George Floyd has shined a light on our country and uncovered the fact that we all knew but we had grown weary of giving words to. That fact is this: As a nation, from before Trayvon Martin to now George Floyd, we’ve suffered loss. We are hurting. We are troubled. We are angry, and we are in mourning.
“Not only have we witnessed the unnecessary death of way too many black and brown people in this country, this new year of 2020, this new decade, has proven to be the backdrop for unprecedented loss due to the global pandemic. Much of the country, and even the world, has spent nearly half the year on lockdown. Who could have thought of that? As the world now begins the process of reopening, there’s no better time to reflect on that theme: “Reset to Rise.”
“In a way, it seems to somewhat prophetic when you think about it. In its common usage, I think we think about a reset as restoring a device to its original factory setting, right? Why? Typically, it’s because we’ve lost something. Whether it’s data or functionality, or even access, correct? Consider this though. We almost never think about a reset until we actually notice that something isn’t working quite right. And we’re not willing to just let it continue that way. That can be the case with a device or business. Or organization, or even as society. But let’s be clear, unless and until we acknowledge that there has been a loss, the reset will not happen. We won’t see that there is a need. There will be no opportunity to rise to a new and better steady state.
“Therefore on this inaugural podcast High Tech Sunday, I wanted to acknowledge loss. Because of the unknowns that came into view for us in this country back in early March, and still persists, in regards to the novel coronavirus, a new normal, actually an abnormal, rapidly began to become a reality. In less than a week back in mid-March here in New York state, we went from business as usual to schools and colleges and businesses being closed. Transitioning to a virtual offering.
“For nearly three months, I haven’t shook hands or embraced anyone who doesn’t live with me. Or who isn’t a family member who I know has been staying home, except to go out for essentials, and even then, they are masked and physically distancing. Abnormal.
“The last time I was in the same room with colleagues was 79 days ago. Abnormal. Eleven and a half weeks, no regular church gatherings, no track meets with my son. No senior prom for him. He’s our youngest. I haven’t even been inside a restaurant since mid-March. That’s abnormal. All of these abnormals compounded together feel like an incredible loss. And then there is the real loss.
“As we talk right now, more than 110,000 lives have been lost here in the United States alone, and more than 400,000 lives lost worldwide. We know communities that have been literally decimated. With the lockdown measures in place, you sometimes don’t even realize that someone has fallen victim to this disease until days after the fact. No funerals. No repasts. Nothing physical. Loss.
“And then, there are 40 million of our colleagues who are now unemployed. People who you might only see at work when you could go to work. But you still enjoyed those encounters. Those chance meetings in the hallway. Those real meetings you attended because you were on the same project team. Then, COVID-19 hit. Then, the lockdown hit. Then, the economy was hit. And now you literally may never see some folks again.
“I remember the ‘telecom winter’ of twenty years ago. There were people impacted by that economic downturn who I would see every day. And then never saw them again. Real loss. Now, quite unexpectedly though, the major saving grace in all of this abnormal has been science and technology. I’m not just talking about the frontline heroes in hospitals and nursing homes and on police and fire departments. Those who are using the science of medicine to track and test and treat this virus.
“I’m not even talking about the science and technology leveraged by those in the physical and life sciences, who have taken on the Himalayan task of developing a vaccine. I’m actually thinking about the manufacturing and engineering innovations that automakers, for example, rapidly deployed to switch their lines from making cars to making ventilators. I’m talking about those in the textile manufacturing business, who switched from making clothes to making masks.
“Even those who leaned into 3-D printing technology to mass produce masks and face shields. In a way, technology has really stepped up and saved the day. And, in ways that most of us don’t even fully fathom. Prior, I know many folks hadn’t even heard of this thing called Zoom. Now, Zoom, and GoToMeeting, and Skype, and WebEx have become inextricably linked to how we work and how we worship. How we communicate and how we stay connected.
“Thanks to technology, think about it, I continued having business meetings. Sometimes, back to back meetings. I’ve attended conferences and even conducted job interviews. At church, while we’ve not had regular in-person service since March 15, we haven’t missed a single Sunday worship experience. We haven’t missed a single midweek bible-study fellowship. Truth be told, I’m actually preaching to and reaching twenty times more people than before New York was shut down. How is that possible? Technology.
“Think about the sophisticated OPTICS and ELECTRONICS in our COMPUTERS and SMARTPHONES that many had used mostly, perhaps, for games and social media. Now, they’ve become a lifeline for those lost human connections.
“I Zoom with family members, from across the country, once a week to just to check in and see how everyone is doing. I do the same with the pastors I lead in West Africa. I have parishioners who Facetime with loved ones who are in hospital because visitation is restricted. I’ve even attended a funeral service via Facebook live stream. Because of social distancing, it was the only way that I could pay my respects.
“Technology does have its limits though. When you have literally everyone, it seems, trying to get online, issues are sure to be encountered. And they have been. So this pandemic has shown that there is still a need for even more BROADBAND INFRASTRUCTURE and ACCESS. And we’ll certainly have the future opportunity on future podcasts to talk about related inequity issues that have been uncovered regarding access. We need even better optics and high-speed electronics. We need technology and once again, the world is looking to us. I don’t mean us in the United States. I mean us, in STEM.
“I’m an unabashed science geek. There, I’ve said it and admitted it. How cool is it for me to think about the fact that the work that I did researching an OPTICAL NETWORK ARCHITECTURE and MODELING THE VOICE, and INTERNET, and DATA TRAFFIC on these networks has contributed, in some small way, to these technologies that we are depending on to help bridge the gap between the losses we have all experienced and the normalcy that we all crave.
“We can’t stop the progress. We need STEM students at historically black colleges and other universities around the world, and others already in the field. We need them researching ways to combat viruses like this one that is currently the focus of the world. We need to continually push the envelope and smash records when it comes to making broadband communication more robust and, yes, more accessible. We need even more HIGH TECH.
“I was happy to hear you mention that these podcasts will include opportunities to draw upon spiritual philosophies as we contemplate high tech topics. As a man of faith, I’ve actually been reflecting on the idea of a reset for months now.
“In the bible, in the second chapter of Revelation, there is an assessment of leaving your first love and then doing your first works over again in order to redress this. To me, this is what reset is all about. Acknowledging that we’ve gone off track and intentionally taking action to get back on track. Not before recalling that the point is not to be forgotten in the first place. What is the point of science and technology? What is the point?
“What is the point of being my brother’s keeper for that matter? In the case of science and technology at Corning, we believe that what we do, at the end of the day, is supposed to make the world a better place. Making life better for the people in it. And the real interest in having a reset isn’t that we will all be better for it? That we’ll all rise together. That all we’ve lost, will never truly be regained.
“What we’ve all experienced as the pandemic came squarely into focus for us: a certain amount of unrest. That has certainly been the case in the United States over the last two weeks. By God’s grace though, we are resilient. We can look to Him as our refuge and He can give us rest. So that we can RESET to RISE.
“Well, Memorial Day week was a tough one. For me, it included a really special, unexpected high point. That came around 3:22 pm Eastern Time, last Saturday. I was riveted in place in front of the TV as I witnessed the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket liftoff with a two-man Dragon crew inside on their way to the International Space Station. This is the first time the United States had returned people to space in nearly a decade. Now, strange as it may sound I’m not ashamed to admit that I wept uncontrollably when the astronauts entered low-earth orbit. So why the tears?
“Well, this might be the first time that I watched man launch into space in about 34 years. You see, I remember well the Challenger disaster of 1986. I was actually working as an intern at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) when the shuttle came apart seventy seconds after liftoff and crewmembers were lost. I worked in time and frequency standards which didn’t have anything to do with the space shuttle. But there were people at JPL who worked on space shuttle projects, including the Challenger. They lost people that they knew. You really can’t get much high tech than space travel, right? From the materials engineering to the propulsion systems to the communications technology, it is all crazy good. Best in class. We’re talking Star Trek. But disasters like the Challenger reminded us that technology is ultimately delivered by man. We’ve learned a lot since 1986, thankfully, but as I watched the launch a week ago, I realized that I was holding my breath and safely praying for the health and wellness of those astronauts. When my breath returned the tears came. They were tears of relief, pride, and awe as well because we returned man to space after an almost ten-year reset. Thanks to technology and the special grace of God. We rose again and what a rise it was!”