Carlos G. Spaht - Acceptance Speech

Outstanding Master's Universities and Colleges Professor of the Year
Carlos G. Spaht
Professor of Mathematics
Louisiana State University in Shreveport
Shreveport, La.

As I was contemplating what I should address in this 3-4 minute period, I received an e-mail from a CASE staff person asking me, "What motivates you to work with at-risk students in your community"?

As you can see from my personal statement in the folder on your table, I direct 3 outreach programs in the Shreveport/Bossier area. One, named LaPREP, is a math and science enrichment program which will begin its 17th consecutive summer session in 2008. Another is a unique financial literacy program titled Financial Independence for Life and the third is a volunteer organization composed of faculty and students at LSUS which tutors inner-city youth in downtown Shreveport. All of the programs have been very successful and have won several awards. In addition, LaPREP has been featured on C-SPAN and shown on television nationally via ABC.

Well, anyway, after I received that email, I realized that I could not immediately answer that question. But as I began to reflect on my past, the pieces began to fall together and I would like to share the reasons with you.

First of all, I was fortunate in that my parents raised me in a nurturing and supportive environment and encouraged me to apply my aptitudes to the best of my ability. They also made it possible for me to take advantage of opportunities when they became available.

I also have a strong faith in God and I believe that He desires us to serve Him by serving and helping our fellowman. And this I do to the best of my ability.

But perhaps the greatest motivation for my involvement in outreach programs stems from experiences I had in 1951-52 when my father ran for governor for the state of Louisiana. I was only 9 years old and in the 4th grade.

My father received a plurality of the votes in the first primary but not a majority and therefore was involved in a run-off election with the second place candidate. The campaign became bitter and dirty and I went from being a fairly popular student at my school to the least popular.

My father's slogan was "Help your state, vote for Spaht" Upon arriving at the school grounds, I was usually greeted with "Help your state, spit on Spaht". Needless to say, fights ensued and I, being smaller than the 5th and 6th graders, usually came out on the short end of the stick. I was ostracized, constantly ridiculed, and attacked verbally and often physically by other students almost on a daily basis.

It took me until my early years in high school to grow out of the psychological and emotional damage I suffered during this period of my life but when I did, I wanted to do everything that I could to help those who were being socially mistreated or suffering from adverse conditions beyond their control.

I continued to be this way through college and my professional career, but about 25 years ago, I had a strong desire to do more. I began to ask God what I could do to help my fellowman. I kept yearning to do a program like LaPREP, but each time I would discard the desire. Such a task seemed insurmountable: developing the curriculum and the syllabi for the courses, developing the teaching materials, recruiting the faculty, recruiting the students, and raising the thousands upon thousands of dollars required to run such a program.

During this same time period, a middle school teacher told me about a student named Tony who she was teaching in an enriched class at one of the best schools in the Shreveport/Bossier area. Tony was an African American and in the 7th grade. He was the best student, the most popular student and the leader in her class. About 3 or 4 years later, she said, "Well, Tony has dropped out of school. He is on drugs and has joined a gang."

It was then I knew that I had to try to do something. I immediately began writing grant applications, and it took 3 years, but I finally hit two large grants, one from the Community Foundation of Shreveport/Bossier and the other from the Department of Energy. The money from the grants enabled me to begin LaPREP in the summer of 1992.

A few years later and after LaPREP had been established, I felt another burden to do more. It was then in 1996 that I started Math Helpers, Inc.; and in 2003, my good friend Harvey Rubin and I together began Financial Independence for Life.

So, what motivates me to be involved with outreach programs? It is a desire to help young high school and college students achieve the educational opportunities that are often out of their reach. I try to do everything in my power to encourage, support and help them reach their goals so that they can be successful in life.

I would like to thank all who have made this award possible - not only the members on the judging panels who selected me but the individuals in this room who have supported, motivated and encouraged me every step of the way.