Reflections on a Full, Consequential, and Lucky Life: Science, Leadership, and Education

May 27, 2021 |
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The American Academy’s University of Chicago Program Committee and the University of Chicago Department of Physics invited the public to a program featuring Walter E. Massey in conversation with Don Randel, President Emeritus of the University of Chicago. Referencing John Dewey: “the inclination to learn from life itself and to make the condition of life such that all will learn in the process of living is the finest product of schooling,” Walter Massey shared experiences from a variegated set of institutions and circumstances, including a 55-year association with the University of Chicago in multiple capacities. Questions that were reflected on included: 

  • How does growing up in rigidly and dangerously segregated Mississippi in the forties and fifties, cutting classes and playing alto saxophone in a rhythm and blues band, lead to becoming a theoretical physicist? 
  • How did an academic scientist who never took a business or finance course become chairman of Bank of America, at the time the largest bank in the nation, in the midst of global financial crisis? 
  • How did a theoretical physicist become president of one of the nation's premier schools of Art and Design?  
  • What is the impact of a liberal education and scientific career on shaping a life of consequence? 
  • Why is diversity and inclusion in science more important now than ever?   
  • What does luck have to do with it?  

Dr. Walter E. Massey’s career has bridged the two cultures of the sciences and the arts, the private and public sectors, and academia and industry. He is currently chair of the Giant Magellan Telescope Organization, chair of the City Colleges of Chicago Trustees, president emeritus of Morehouse College and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and senior advisor to the president and emeritus trustee of the University of Chicago. He has served as director of the National Science Foundation and director of the Argonne National Laboratory, and held professorships in physics at Brown University and the University of Chicago. He was Chairman of Bank of America from 2009-2010.