Interviewing Dr. Nathan Hosannah

Dr. Nathan Hosannah is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Math, Engineering & Computer Science at LaGuardia Community College. Dr. Hosannah’s research interests are in land-atmosphere interactions in the coastal environment. He is currently a Director of the CUNY Research Scholars Program (CRSP) at LaGuardia Community College.

How has your identity as a Black/African American scientist influence your profession?

I am connected to Guyana, I am a Black man but I am not African American. It is the only English speaking country within South America; it is part of the Caribbean. I was born in England, my parents brought my brothers and I to the United States when I was three, going on four years old. I grew up in New York City. I am not African American but I do identify as Black.

Our experiences do shape our careers in some ways. However, in other ways, we are whom we are when we came onto this planet. My inquisitive nature, my drive, my energy, and my thoughts about what I believed were interesting were always related to math, science, arts, and music from very early on. I am not sure if my identification as a Black person is what drove those interests, although, I do think my culture influences the way I learn. Hip-hop and other types of music (calypso, soca, new wave, rock, soul, etc.), taught me many different things- even about science and engineering. I can say that the interaction between my cultural growth and who I was when I entered this world formed who I now am.

What obstacles have you faced in your profession as a Black/African American scientist? How did you overcome them?

Some of the main issues that people who look like me experience is that there are a lack of people who look like me the higher up you go in institutions and organizations. When you’re in undergrad and you don’t see instructors or professors that look like you, you may not necessarily feel connected and it may have an effect on you. That should not stop you. Our existence is based upon survival as human beings and so we have to find ways to push through things that restrict our ability to survive. However, survival becomes a lot easier when you have certain things in place. Having a support system is absolutely necessary for survival.

Mentorship is necessary and leads to understanding. You might understand everything within your culture, but outside of that culture it may not translate the same way and people cannot reach you in the same way. Looking at cultures outside of your own is important so that you can grow and succeed. You can break that mold and become even greater.

Do you mentor Students?

All the time. Not only, through my research but also, when a student sends me an email, for example, with no subject line or they use the word ‘hey’, there are mentorship opportunities there too. Teaching students etiquette is a form of mentorship. Other examples- how to operate, getting your point across in the classroom setting, and learning how to be respectful to your professor and classmates, mentorship comes in a variety of different ways. Mentoring does not only come in the form of research, it is also related to interactions with your peers, professors, staff and administration. ‘There is more than one way to skin a cat’ as my mother would say.

What does Black History Month mean to you?

I think when people hear ‘Black History Month’, you become disillusioned because it is a month out of the year and it is the shortest month. What many people do not know about Black History Month is that it started as Black History week, initiated by Carter G. Woodson. Black History week led to the increasing the knowledge of incredible of the African diaspora across the planet. There are discussions of the inventions, the genius undertakings, some of our leaders as well and other amazing things, not just from one group of people or from one culture and across the diaspora, but now all over the world.

You cannot think about the United States without thinking about Black history, it is impossible because of how this country was built. It extends beyond a month, I think about Black history every day. I think about our global interactions across this planet. The inhabitants of this world, especially those who are Black who have contributed some of the most immense architectural structures, not only in Egypt but in places like Zimbabwe and in particular the literal building of this country. The people who didn’t come to this country have made their own contributions. That story pervades many different cultures. The LatinX community has made contributions, by the way, the African connections to the LatinX community is an amazing thing. Look at what Asian people have contributed to the building of this country. It never is a month; it always expands beyond a month for me because it is inherit in the way that I move, in the way that I think about our world and the interaction between people. It is a Black History existence, not just a month. I know it does not answer how I fit in with regards to the month, but it is the answer that I can give.

What has been your biggest inspiration?

My biggest inspiration is the desire to understand. My desire to understand informs everything I do. My desire to understand myself spawned from my deep dive into my own family’s history into the world’s history, into how this engine works, into how the universe works, into ways of indicating how we may determine that the world is spherical. Wanting to understand is my biggest motivational force.

You are a role model for many of our students. What advice would you give Black/ African American youth interested in Earth Systems science?

The first thing I want to say is that this is not above you [the student], even in the event that you do not see a lot of people like you. People get disillusioned when others say ‘If I can do it, you can do it’, because it’s putting something on you even though I may not know certain things about the way you think or certain issues. Some people do not feel that the phrase fits them nor is it motivational for them. Instead of saying ‘If I can do it, you can do it’ just say ‘you can do it’. It has nothing to do with me; I am not comparing you to me. However, I can guide you through the path.

It helps for you as a student interested in Earth System Science to be vocal about your wants and needs. I have several students who went on to do amazing things because they asked me a question. ‘Professor, do you do research?’, that starts a conversation about the research I conduct. I have students that started at LaGuardia and are now at City College pursing engineering degrees. One student from Gabon, went on to conduct research on how different industries within Gabon influence the atmospheric conditions. Another student from the Dominican Republic, she was conducting research on Dominican Republic and now is focusing on Guyana to understand how the continental scenario may vary from the island scenario in terms of storms and rainfall, and so on. Both research ideas from each student stemmed from the question ‘Professor do you do research?’. You have to be bold and be brave. The worst thing someone can tell you is no. Oftentimes from professors it’s[their response] not a ‘no’ but it would likely be ‘I cannot provide an opportunity for you but I know somebody who can or I will keep you in mind’. I have another student who tried to do research for me but I could not find the specific time to include that student. I did not want them to do nothing, I wanted to have them do something and continuously grow towards something. It has been a year now since I have started working with that student. There was a six-month period where we [Dr. Hosannah and the student] did not communicate but then I reached out to the student and said ‘I have the perfect project for you’, and he said ‘Professor, I would love to work with you’. Being persistent and being bold says a lot.

The CUNY CREST Institute gives thanks to Dr. Nathan Hosannah and our other amazing scientists participating in our interview! We are proud and honored to have you as part of our team, for not only your great work and success but also to serve as a role model and leader to students, partners, stakeholders, and other communities we serve at the CUNY CREST Institute.