The autumn of 1956 had seen the forcible integration of Clinton High School, the first Tennessee school to do so, under the watchful eye of the National Guard.
The University of Tennessee was still four years away from undergraduate desegregation, and merchants and businesses throughout the region still denied service based on customers’ skin color.
It was hardly an environment from which a true pioneer might be expected to come, yet Dean did just that.
In fact, far from viewing any prejudice he faced as a setback, Dean, a native of Jefferson City, Tennessee, used it as motivation.
“Adversity and prejudice are a fact of life for any minority component of a population, but can be overcome by staying confident in yourself and your abilities,” said Dean. “Confronting prejudice and making people aware of the prejudiced situation or behavior will either educate the unaware, expose your strength of character, and/or create a dialogue that puts you in a leadership position.”
For his contributions as a computer scientist, an inventor, and someone who helped shape the modern world, Dean is being honored as the Trailblazer Series speaker for February. He’ll speak about his life and career as part of the series at 12:30 p.m. on February 26 in the auditorium of the John C. Hodges Library.
The series, sponsored by the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Diversity and the Commission for Blacks, promotes and honors African-Americans in the UT community who are trailblazers in their field and have been instrumental in advancing civil rights issues or issues specific to African-Americans or persons of African descent.
With IBM, Dean was responsible for three of the company’s original nine personal computing patents, including the ones that defined what became known as the ISA bus—providing the ability to connect more than one device to a computer at a time.
He was the first African-American IBM Fellow and is a member of the National Inventors Hall of Fame as well as several other societies.
In addition to his countless scientific achievements, Dean has been a big proponent of the varied ideas and viewpoints that a diverse workforce can bring, highlighting the areas where it can help a company.
“The benefits of a diverse workforce include not only awareness of societal norms and biases but also ideas that can make the business itself more dynamic,” said Dean. “Cross-sectional innovation, diversity of leadership styles, out-of-the-box thinking, brand strength across all parts of society, and better understanding of emerging markets—both domestic and international—are all ways that an employer benefits from diversity.”
Now, back at UT, where he earned his undergraduate degree in 1979, Dean remains a pioneer as John Fisher Distinguished Professor in the College of Engineering.
Still a trailblazer in every sense, he accurately predicted the move from traditional computers toward tablets years before the trend hit nationally, even confirming in December that he has largely abandoned the PC for his tablet.
Additional sponsors for the series include the College of Engineering, the Ready for the World Initiative, the UT System Office of the President, the Departments of Psychology and Theatre, and the College of Law.
David Goddard (865-974-0683, firstname.lastname@example.org)