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Harris Happily Heads Engineering School at Prairie View

Kendall Harris
Kendall Harris

The difference between a career and a job is that the former is something you find a privilege to serve in and the latter is often a duty you endure to pay the bills. Kendall Harris definitely has a career.

“To be totally honest, I enjoy my career,” said the University of Mississippi alumnus, who serves as both dean of the Prairie View A&M University School of Engineering and professor of mechanical engineering. “The most fulfilling part of my position is the development of future engineers.

“As a professor, there is no more special feeling than when the proverbial light bulb goes on once a student gets a concept or understands a subject. As the dean, it’s great to know that the decisions that I make help to guide and shape the overall development of our engineering student body.”

Harris’ achievements draw admiration from UM engineering school administrators.

“Dean Harris is a national leader in STEM education, particularly for under-represented and under-prepared students,” said Alex Cheng, engineering school dean. “The program he runs at Prairie View A&M retained a high percentage of such students and guided them to to success in engineering. The program has gained a national reputation.”

Harris’ journey began when the native of East St. Louis, Illinois, graduated from high school at the tender age of 16. He earned two bachelor’s degrees from the University of Kansas and spent several years serving in the U.S. Navy before finding his way to Ole Miss.

“I had moved to my mom’s home in right after I left the Navy to ‘find myself,’” Harris said. “I wasn’t working at the time because I had saved a lot of money from the Navy, so I thought I had time to burn.”

Harris’ mother, however, believed that “men” were supposed to put in an honest day of work.

“She had a big problem with me sleeping in while she went to work each morning,” he said. “After about two months of her biting her tongue about me not working, she brought home an application from her school district and told me to fill it out.”

Harris remembers telling his mother that he didn’t want to be a school teacher. Her response shocked him.

“She looked at me and said, ‘Baby, we don’t need school teachers; we need janitors,’” he said. “I was too stunned and right then and there, I knew I had to get out of her home.”

Fortunately, Harris’ best friend, Richard Doss, who earned a doctorate in clinical psychology from UM, was home and invited Harris to come with him and visit Ole Miss.

“Upon my visit, I met Dr. Tyrus McCarty and Dr. Jeffery Roux (who would eventually become his advisers) and Mr. Thomas Wallace,” Harris said. “They showed me around the campus and convinced me to work on my master’s degree in engineering until I found myself. Best decision I have ever made in my life.”

McCarty fondly remembers Harris as a most intellectual student with exceptional creativity, leadership ability and potential.

“Kendall Harris was one of the brightest and best students I have ever encountered during my tenure at Ole Miss,” the mechanical engineering professor said. “I always believed he would go on to accomplish great things, and he has done just that. I’m proud to know him, both as a former student and a friend.”

Harris has similarly fond memories of McCarty and Roux.

“Each of them was dedicated to me graduating, providing me his guidance and his overall caring,” Harris said. “I can recall that one time I was taking a difficult math course. Dr. McCarty actually sat in with me on the course to make sure that I got the material. That’s dedication.”

Harris, who earned degrees in aerospace engineering and psychology at Kansas, received both his master’s and doctoral degrees in mechanical engineering from Ole Miss.

He has moved through the ranks of academia, including promotion from assistant professor to professor by age 37 and becoming dean before age 40.

“I have been truly blessed to achieve some remarkable things in my personal and professional life, but the most significant accolade for me was obtaining my Ph.D. from UM,” Harris said. “I say this because the door that opened for me once I received my doctorate has been opened so wide that I am still receiving opportunities from it.

“I am totally grateful to UM and my professors for giving me the opportunity that has become the catalyst for everything else in my professional career.”

Harris’ family includes his wife, Shundra, a computer engineer-turned interior designer; and their two sons, Edward and DaKary. Other family members are his mother, Carrie Harris-Jefferson; stepfather, Gary Jefferson; sister, Dr. Josette Bradford, and her husband, Dr. Corey Bradford; brother, Donte Harris, another UM mechanical engineering alumnus, and his wife, Jennifer.

Harris said he loves to travel and has visited China, India, Egypt, Brazil, Spain, Portugal and many other places. He also enjoys sports – both spectating and participating – and attending Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church, where he actively serves.

Of everything Harris has experienced and learned over the years, the life lessons that he gained at UM have maintained him throughout his professional career.

“One of the most profound statements that Dr. McCarty told me – and I live my life around this even today – is, ‘Kendall, surround yourself with right-thinking people, no matter what they look like. Just ensure that they are rightthinking,’” Harris said. “My education was world-class. I couldn’t have been educated better at a different university.”

Courtesy of Edwin Smith and the Ole Miss News Desk

 

Adam Brown
Adam Brown
Sports Editor

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