The Nation’s Largest African American Video Oral History Collection Mobile search icon Mobile close search icon
Advanced Biography Search
Mobile navigation icon Close mobile navigation icon

James Mitchell

Research chemist James W. Mitchell was born on November 16, 1943 in Durham, North Carolina as the eldest and only son of tobacco factory workers. Mitchell’s interest in chemistry stemmed from the disciplines logical principles and their reliability. Mitchell received his B.S. degree in chemistry from North Carolina A & T State University in 1965, and his Ph.D. degree in chemistry from Iowa State University in 1970. His doctoral thesis focused on analytical chemistry, a branch of chemistry concerned with analyzing the characteristics and composition of matter.

Mitchell first joined AT & T Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey after receiving his doctorate. He chaired the Lab’s Affirmative Action Committee and was one of the founders of the Association of Black Laboratory Employees. In 1982, Mitchell was promoted to supervisor of the Inorganic Analytical Chemistry Research Group. Mitchell became head of the Analytical Chemistry Research Department in 1975. Under his leadership the department was transformed into an internationally renowned research organization. In 1985, Mitchell was named an AT & T Bell Laboratories Fellow, and, in 1989 he was extended membership into the National Academy of Engineering. He has written nearly 100 publications with as many citations attached to his work. He earned the 1999 Lifetime Achievement in Industry Award by the National Society of Black Engineers.

In 2002, Mitchell began his tenure at Howard University. He served as the David and Lucille Packard Professor of Materials Science, Director of the CREST Nanoscale Analytical Sciences Research and Education Center, Professor of Chemical Engineering, and Dean of the College of Engineering. Mitchell has also lectured internationally. In addition, he co-authored a book, Contamination Control in Trace Analysis, published more than seventy-five scientific papers, and invented instruments and processes. He also served as a member of the editorial advisory boards of Analytical Chemistry and Mikrochimica Acta. Mitchell and his wife Jean live in Washington, D.C. They have three children.

James W. Mitchell was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on September 11, 2012.

Accession Number

A2012.236

Sex

Male

Interview Date

9/11/2012

Last Name

Mitchell

Maker Category
Middle Name

W

Occupation
Schools

North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University

Iowa State University

Search Occupation Category
First Name

James

Birth City, State, Country

Durham

HM ID

MIT13

Favorite Season

Holiday Season

State

North Carolina

Favorite Vacation Destination

Alaskan Cruises

Favorite Quote

When times get tough, the tough get going.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

District of Columbia

Birth Date

11/16/1943

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Washington

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Turkey, Greens (Collard), Fish, Barbecue

Short Description

Chemist James Mitchell (1943 - ) was the first African American honored as an AT&T Bell Laboratories Fellow, and is the Dean of the College of Engineering at Howard University.

Employment

Bell Laboratories

Lucent Technologies

Howard University College of Engineering

CREST Nanoscale Analytical Sciences Research and Education center

Favorite Color

Gold, Purple, Red, White

Timing Pairs
310,0:4470,95:5350,111:6310,131:6630,136:7270,150:9110,189:10310,208:15672,263:22832,332:23781,347:24365,356:25241,370:25679,377:32120,416:34760,468:35880,487:36600,502:36920,507:37240,512:38200,525:38840,534:39480,543:40200,554:42200,587:47750,630:49270,656:50150,672:53670,726:55910,761:58230,784:59270,799:60310,813:61270,827:61590,832:66579,850:67492,863:68239,872:68571,877:69733,894:70231,901:71900,928:72593,940:73097,950:73601,959:74042,967:75428,992:75995,1002:76562,1014:78011,1043:78641,1104:84833,1129:89948,1225:98063,1312:103076,1342:105169,1372:111930,1410:112262,1415:112677,1421:116635,1444:117145,1451:121410,1486:121766,1491:126928,1562:127284,1567:127818,1572:128708,1584:129153,1590:135470,1647:135926,1654:136458,1663:138054,1689:139422,1712:141980,1719:142360,1724:143025,1733:151406,1803:153494,1830:155495,1857:160280,1915:161498,1930:166066,1956:173326,2113:173590,2118:180270,2203:181020,2215:181545,2224:182070,2236:185032,2252:185402,2258:185846,2265:187178,2286:188140,2300:189028,2313:189694,2323:192358,2364:192654,2369:193024,2375:193690,2385:197728,2406:200968,2470:201256,2475:201688,2482:202912,2503:203488,2513:204496,2528:205504,2553:209827,2577:211681,2593:212196,2599:221466,2679:222048,2686:222436,2691:223212,2700:224182,2713:225928,2737:227770,2742$0,0:8907,32:10041,51:18951,164:23498,179:26427,214:29815,246:33222,274:34671,303:34923,308:37210,323:44237,393:45013,403:47147,424:50932,444:54663,484:56895,512:57546,521:59499,540:59964,546:61917,573:67638,614:70992,654:71850,667:78222,723:80242,751:83582,779:87023,803:87451,808:88414,818:89591,835:93110,861:95407,879:96208,890:96742,897:99224,927:99763,935:103151,979:105230,1015:105846,1024:106924,1045:108310,1072:108926,1082:109927,1098:110389,1106:118830,1184:119570,1195:124422,1230:131730,1262:132094,1267:133277,1283:136752,1310:138026,1325:139104,1337:140084,1348:140476,1353:140868,1358:143612,1388:155430,1457:156022,1462:157370,1469
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of James Mitchell's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - James Mitchell lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - James Mitchell describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - James Mitchell describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - James Mitchell talks about how his parents met

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - James Mitchell describes his parents' personalities and who he takes after

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - James Mitchell describes his childhood neighborhood

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - James Mitchell talks about his family

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - James Mitchell talks about his parents' separation and reconciliation

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - James Mitchell describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - James Mitchell describes the sights, sounds and smells of growing up

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - James Mitchell talks about his elementary schools

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - James Mitchell talks about his elementary school

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - James Mitchell talks about his natural ability of taking things apart and reassembling them

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - James Mitchell talks about what influenced him while growing up

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - James Mitchell talks about his involvement in church

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - James Mitchell talks about his interest in music

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - James Mitchell talks about growing up in Durham, North Carolina

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - James Mitchell talks about his childhood jobs

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - James Mitchell talks about the importance of education

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - James Mitchell talks about the book rent policy in North Carolina

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - James Mitchell talks about his father's return after a long absence

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - James Mitchell talks about his relationship with his mother

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - James Mitchell talks about his experience at the summer science program at North Carolina Central University

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - James Mitchell talks about his high school experience

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - James Mitchell talks about his decision to attend North Carolina A&T University

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - James Mitchell talks about his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement (part one)

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - James Mitchell talks about his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement (part two)

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - James Mitchell talks about the segregation at North Carolina A&T State University

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - James Mitchell talks about his mentors at North Carolina A&T State University

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - James Mitchell talks about his college experience

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - James Mitchell talks about his summer employment during college

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - James Mitchell talks about his decision to attend Iowa State University for his Ph.D. degree

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - James Mitchell talks about his friend, Dr. Reginald Mitchner

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - James Mitchell talks about his experience at Iowa State University and his wife

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - James Mitchell talks about his experience at Iowa State University

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - James Mitchell describes his dissertation on the separation of rare earth elements

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - James Mitchell talks about the practical applications of his research on the separation of rare earth elements

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - James Mitchell talks about his employment prospects after graduating from Iowa State University

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - James Mitchell talks about the assassinations of prominent figures during the Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - James Mitchell talks about the work environment at Bell Laboratories

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - James Mitchell talks about his work at Bell Laboratories

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - James Mitchell talks about his patents

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - James Mitchell talks about his professional activities and awards

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - James Mitchell talks about AT&T Bell Laboratories' merger with Lucent Technologies

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - James Mitchell talks about his mentorship activities at Bell Laboratories

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - James Mitchell talks about his colleagues at Bell Laboratories/Lucent Technologies

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - James Mitchell talks about his career at Howard University

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - James Mitchell talks about his goals for the college of engineering at Howard University

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - James Mitchell describes the challenges he faces as dean of the college of engineering

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - James Mitchell talks about his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - James Mitchell reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - James Mitchell reflects on his life choices

Tape: 6 Story: 10 - James Mitchell talks about his family

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - James Mitchell talks about his parents' reaction to his success

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - James Mitchell shares his advice for young people

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - James Mitchell talks about how he would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

5$6

DAStory

4$5

DATitle
James Mitchell talks about the work environment at Bell Laboratories
James Mitchell talks about his goals for the college of engineering at Howard University
Transcript
Okay, so, and so, after graduating in 1970, so you joined Bell Labs [Bell Laboratories]. Now, this is, as you said, Bell Labs has been touted by the people we've interviewed as one of the greatest places to work. Of course, the culture is destroyed now, but at that time, it was a scientist's dream.$$It absolutely was one of the best corporate research facilities on Planet Earth. It was run by managers who had first been accomplished scientists themselves. You didn't get to be a manager at the AT&T Bell Laboratories Research Facility unless you were an extraordinary researcher first. And so the people in charge of the place understood what was necessary in an environment in order for it to be essentially perfect from the standpoint of supporting, fostering and allowing scientific and technological excellence to take place. I had the blessings of enjoying Bell Laboratories for thirty years. It was the type of environment where you couldn't believe that you were paid to do something that was so enjoyable and to do it under conditions that were so excellent.$$Yeah, it's hardly anyone that says something like that, but that's, those who talk about Bell Labs do speak that highly of it. So, for instance, what made it such an enjoyable place to work?$$Well, it was such an enjoyable place to work because money was not an obstacle to accomplishing the impossible. If a young person had an idea about something and it had a finite probability of being feasible, the only thing you had to do was convince the manager of your organization that this idea concept was worth pursuing and that if brought to fruition, its scientific impact would be extraordinary, and it was possible for you to do that. That could be done in a conversation and on one page. It didn't require a 300-page research proposal. So you could pursue extraordinary research ideas and so forth without exhaustive inputs and justifications before the fact. You had colleagues on your hallway who were experts in virtually all aspects of science and technology. You could learn in a thirty-minute conversation with one of your colleagues what would require you three months of digging through the literature and research in order to acquire the knowledge. You could almost instantly generate a collaboration with anyone, excellent people will collaborate at a finger snap with other excellent people. And you had access. If you indicated that you worked at Bell Laboratories, that almost immediately gave you access to collaborations with anybody else in the country. And so it was just an amazing place where the money, the infrastructure, the intellect, the vision and all of those things came together that allowed important science to be done.$Okay, so that's 2009. Now, so, just tell us about what you're doing as dean here and what your prospects are as well as for the college?$$As a dean, I believe the most important responsibility I have is to put in place the underpinnings and the structure of the College of Engineering such that in the next century we are able to implement, establish and grow entrepreneurships, intellectual property, technology parks and businesses. Howard University is not going to be a greater university than it has been until we have done what the other universities do, establish technology parks, establish intellectual property and have a gigantic foundation with funding sufficient for us to accomplish anything on our own, if necessary. And so I see my greatest goal is to lay the foundation for pursuing that long-term goal. And so we have, are in the midst of restructuring the college to pursue that. We are in the midst of working with the faculty to recruit entrepreneurial professors, individuals who see the business aspect of science as important as the knowledge aspect of science and who want to operate in both arenas. And my job is to hopefully work with the upper-level management here and transform the environment from one of teaching excellence with science done in addition to it, but one of scientific and engineering excellence that even surpasses by far the teaching legacy of excellence that we have. And so that's the unfinished job that exists.