Dr. Randolph Wilson “Bill” Bromery had no intention of becoming a
geologist when he graduated from Howard University in 1948 with a
bachelor’s degree in mathematics and physics. He had planned to get a
job at the U.S. Naval Research laboratory. But after applying for a job
there four times, he was convinced the lab’s claim of having lost his
application was a subtle way of saying his talents weren’t wanted.
Bromery left the research lab after that fourth visit crestfallen
and dejected. With little more than $11 to his name and a wife at home,
he wondered what he would do next. Serendipitously, while riding the
trolley home, he noticed an ad in a Black newspaper announcing that the
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) was recruiting mathematicians. Among the
positions available, was an job in which the preferred candidate was
someone who could work without succumbing to sea sickness aboard a
plane that flew at low altitudes. The former Tuskegee Airman was so
excited, he headed straight for the USGS office.
“It was the first time anyone ever said to me, `You’re perfect for this job,'” he says.
Fifty years have passed since that fateful trolley ride in August.
Bromery spent nearly twenty years at the USGS. During that time, he
completed his master’s degree, began teaching two nights a week, and
earned his Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins University in 1968. He was the first
African American president of the American Geological Society and left
USGS in 1967 to accept a post as the chairman of the geology department
at the University of Massachusetts.
Bromery eventually became chancellor of the University of
Massachusetts-Amherst, and today, is the recently retired president of
In a career full of firsts, Bromery’s most recent achievement is
having been selected to have his portrait on permanent display at the
National Academy of Sciences, African American Science, Engineering and
Medicine Portrait Collection.
On the subject of bringing more African Americans into the
geosciences, Bromery urges his colleagues to remember that Black
students can and should be held to the same standards as other students.
“Most universities tend to cater to the brightest students. The
problem is that some professors teach down to Black students. Others
think there should be a double standard,” he says.
Rewarding students who perform below par just because they are part
of an underrepresented group does more harm than good, he adds. In his
experience, more students benefit when support systems are in place to
help students succeed, irrespective of race.
Bromery also urges his colleagues in higher education to recruit
Black faculty from among the geoscientists already working in industry
and government — especially, since that is how he got into education.
“I spent my first twenty years doing research and publications,” he
says. “It was only after teaching part time for a few years that I
thought, “Maybe I should do this full time.’
“As we mature, teaching can be an appealing option.”
COPYRIGHT 1998 Cox, Matthews & Associates
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com