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Clayton W. Bates, Jr.

Electrical engineer and physicist Clayton W. Bates, Jr. was born on September 5, 1932 in New York City, where he attended elementary school at New York Public School 119 and middle school at New York Junior High School 43. Bates earned his high school diploma from the all-boys Brooklyn Technical High School in 1950 where he was a member of the baseball, basketball, and track teams. As a young boy, he also enjoyed playing baseball and basketball in his Harlem neighborhood where he lived with his mother and older sister, Barbara. Bates' parents, Arline and Clayton Bates, Sr., divorced when he was a young teenager. Bates' love affair with science and engineering began early; as a youngster he enjoyed building model planes and dreamed of becoming a pilot.

From 1950 to 1954, Bates attended Manhattan College on a full academic scholarship where he received his B.S. degree in electrical engineering. Bates went on to earn his M.S. degree in electrical engineering from the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn. He then received a fellowship from Harvard University where he earned his second M.S. degree in electrical engineering in 1960. Bates went on to study at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri where he received his Ph.D. degree in physics in 1966.

Following graduation, Bates worked for several engineering and scientific companies including Varian Associates, AVCO, Sylvania Electric Products, the Ford Instrument Company, and RCA. His projects ranged from low-level light detection and x-ray image intensification to the design of the nuclear reactor controls of the first SEA WOLF, the second atomic powered submarine. In 1972, Bates left Varian and accepted a position in Stanford University’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering. Bates continued to work at Stanford for the next twenty-two years where he helped to organize the Society of Black Scientists and Engineers. In 1984, Bates accepted the position of associate dean for graduate education and research in Howard University’s College of Engineering, Architecture, and Computer Sciences. Throughout his career, Bates authored numerous publications. He has been committed to increasing the number of African Americans in STEM fields and improving scientific research at Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

Bates and his wife, Priscilla, raised three children: Katherine, Christopher and Naomi.

Clayton W. Bates, Jr. was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on March 5, 2005.

Accession Number

A2004.016

Sex

Male

Archival Photo 1
Interview Date

3/5/2004

Last Name

Bates

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Middle Name

W.

Schools

Brooklyn Technical High School

New York Junior High School 43

Polytechnic Institute of New York University

Harvard University

Washington University in St Louis

Manhattan College

P.S. 119

Search Occupation Category
Speakers Bureau

Yes

Archival Photo 2
Speakers Bureau Availability

Evenings, Weekends

First Name

Clayton

Birth City, State, Country

New York

HM ID

BAT03

Speakers Bureau Preferred Audience

Youth Teens

Speakers Bureau Honorarium

No

Favorite Season

Fall

Speaker Bureau Notes

Preferred Audience: Youth Teens

Sponsor

National Science Foundation

State

New York

Favorite Vacation Destination

Europe

Favorite Quote

I believe that there are greater things in life than life itself. I believe in climbing upward even when the spent and broken thing called my body calls halt.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

California

Birth Date

9/5/1932

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Bay Area/Palo Alto

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Fried Chicken

Short Description

Electrical engineer and physicist Clayton W. Bates, Jr. (1932 - ) served on the engineering faculty at Stanford University and Howard University. He has dedicated his career to improving STEM education for African Americans.

Employment

Varian Associates

Avco Corporation

Sylvania Electric Products

Ford Instrument Company

RCA Corporation

Stanford University, Department of Materials Science and Engineering

Howard University College of Engineering

Main Sponsor
Main Sponsor URL
Favorite Color

None

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Clayton W. Bates, Jr.'s interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Clayton W. Bates, Jr. shares his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Clayton W. Bates, Jr. talks about his mother

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Clayton W. Bates, Jr. talks about his father's side of the family

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Clayton W. Bates, Jr. shares early childhood memories of his parents and holidays

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Clayton W. Bates, Jr. describes his New York community

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Clayton W. Bates, Jr. talks about his elementary school experience and interest in science

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Clayton W. Bates, Jr. talks about his conversion to Catholicism

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Clayton W. Bates, Jr. talks about his interest in engineering in junior high school

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Clayton W. Bates, Jr. talks about Brooklyn Technical High School and his aspiration to become an engineer

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Clayton W. Bates, Jr. talks about his experience at Manhattan College

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Clayton W. Bates, Jr. talks about working at RCA and earning his master's degree

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Clayton W. Bates, Jr. talks about his transition from engineering to physics

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Clayton W. Bates, Jr. talks about earning his Ph.D. degree in physics from Washington University

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Clayton W. Bates, Jr. talks about working at Sylvania Electric Products and Varian Associates

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Clayton W. Bates, Jr. talks about his wife and his work at Stanford University

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Clayton W. Bates, Jr. discusses the importance of the Society of Black Scientists and Engineers at Stanford University

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Clayton W. Bates, Jr. discusses important issues for the African American scientific community

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Clayton W. Bates, Jr. talks about his transition from Stanford University to Howard University

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Clayton W. Bates, Jr. remembers his students and shares advice

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Clayton W. Bates, Jr. describes his career

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Clayton W. Bates, Jr. reflects on his career path and his life choices

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Clayton W. Bates, Jr. talks about his children and their professions

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Clayton W. Bates, Jr. discusses his accomplishments in science and in life

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Clayton W. Bates, Jr. reflects on his life and discusses the importance of history in the African American community

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Clayton W. Bates, Jr. describes his photos

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$3

DAStory

5$5

DATitle
Clayton W. Bates, Jr. talks about earning his Ph.D. degree in physics from Washington University
Clayton W. Bates, Jr. describes his career
Transcript
Let's talk a little bit about your Ph.D. after you left Harvard [University, Cambridge, Massachusetts].$$OK. Well, I got my Ph.D. from Washington University in St. Louis [Missouri], and the reason I went to Washington University in St. Louis was because of the gentleman who was there that I had read about, and I was interested in doing research with, and I got money, at least for the first year, from my mother's [Arline Walker] employer, the people that she worked for. They simply gave me the money to go for a year, and after that I was able to get a fellowship. Then, I was really committed to maybe getting the Ph.D. in physics without an engineering tail or anything like that at all. So, that's what I did. I got my Ph.D. in physics in 1966 from Washington University in St. Louis.$$What was that like for an African American man?$$In St. Louis, or just what?$$Just in general, a Ph.D. in physics?$$It was very interesting, because [Walter] "Walt" Massey who's the president of Morehouse University [Atlanta, Georgia], and I were roommates. It was very interesting at the time. And I didn't think of it in racial terms, because even when I was in engineering, I was the only black person in the class. It was science. This is what I was interested in doing, and at that time, I was moving more to the area in physics more so than engineering. So, I didn't think of it in racial terms, even though we were the only two blacks at Washington University. We were the first two to get Ph.D.s in the department there, and I don't think they've had any since that time. That's OK. So, I didn't think of it racially, I just thought it was something that I wanted to do. And my experience had always been that people treated me well in physics, that was all.$$$$What were you thinking that you really wanted to do at this point after you'd gotten your Ph.D.?$$After I got my Ph.D., it was very interesting. The advisor, the person I worked with--a very, very well known physicist who died some years ago--got me a job in industry. I was toying between doing a post doctoral fellowship at a university, or going into industry. He recommended I really go into industry and get really more industrial experience than I had. So, I got a job working for Sylvania Electrical Products in Palo Alto, California, where he had been a--he had consulted for them for very many years, and I worked in their, what is called their central research laboratories. So, I started, at least, to work there.$So, in addition to a distinguished career in science and engineering, you've also had another twenty-year career. Can you tell us a little bit about that?$$(Laughter). I was a professional model, actually, for over twenty years, actually. I found that very interesting, because of the way I got into it. My wife was doing professional acting at the time and...$$About what time?$$Oh, that was in the early '70s [1970s]. It was the early 70s I had just started at Stanford University [Palo Alto, California] and--I think we were still living up in the city in San Francisco [California] before moving down to Palo Alto [California]--and my wife was acting in various plays and actually doing quite well, and she enjoyed it very, very much. She thought she wanted to maybe do some modeling--she's an attractive woman, and so she called the photographer over to the house to get pictures made, what's called a composite--they catch you in various poses and everything like that. The photographer said, "I want to take some pictures of you". Well, again, to make a long story short she took the photos that she had to a couple of agencies that she dealt with--modeling agencies--and one of the agencies wanted me and didn't want my wife (laughter). They said my wife just held that against me since that time. I've had a number of different types of jobs. I've done some t.v. shots, mainly for cars. I remember when the Cordova came out. Ricardo Montalban was the one who advertised it. Well, I did, and it showed up in Ebony [Magazine], and I've had pictures show up in New York Times Magazine, and so forth like that. We did a shot of a solid gold Cadillac I remember. It was very interesting and a lot of fun. And, I hesitated to tell people what I did. The models (unclear) what do you do, (unclear) I told them, they would sort of be dumbfounded and say what are you doing this for and I'd say because it's fun and it's interesting. (laughter). That was all.$$Is there a particular shoot or photo session that is very memorable to you?$$Oh yes. The very first one I took because it was done--I can't think of the guy's name--but it was taken by a really world famous photographer, and I can see why. I will never look that good again in my life, and I don't think I even looked that good in the picture there (laughter). It was for an ad for AAA Magazine. It was on the inside cover. It was a head shot and it said, "We don't insure automobiles, we insure neighbors." So, I was sort of the neighbor. And so, that is the one that stands out in my mind. I did some for western cowboys, but that was the one that still stands out in my mind. I just really enjoyed that.