Black History Month faculty profile: Robert Weems

Black History Month provides an opportunity for contemplation, learning and raising awareness about the extensive and varied history of the Black community. Wichita State is embracing the rich tapestry of history and heritage by highlighting some of the amazing Black educators who make a difference in students' lives every day.

Robert E. Weems Jr. is a faculty member in WSU's History Department and is the Willard W. Garvey Distinguished Professor of Business History. Weems says African American history is troubling but also demonstrates the resilience of Black Americans.

Name, department and courses you teach: My name is Robert E. Weems Jr. and I’m a faculty member in the WSU Department of History. I teach a variety of courses in the realm of African American history, including a course on African American business history. I also teach a course that is cross listed with the Entrepreneurship Department in the Barton School of Business: “Ethnic Entrepreneurship” focuses upon the historic and contemporary activities of nonwhite entrepreneurs in the United States. This is one of few similar courses being offered across the country.
Explain your background and journey to becoming a faculty member at Wichita State? My journey to Wichita State, to assume the position of Willard W. Garvey Distinguished Professor of Business History in 2011, included professorial stints at the University of Iowa and the University of Missouri-Columbia. Born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, my educational background consists of a B.A. in History from Western Illinois University; an M.A. in African American Studies from Boston University; an M.A. in History from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee; and a Ph.D. in History from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. 
What are some memorable experiences or challenges you've faced as a Black educator? Over the years, I’ve had a variety of positive experiences as a professor. One of my more memorable ones here at Wichita State occurred on Nov. 5, 2017 when the WSU Library hosted a program to celebrate my donation of materials known as the “Wichita African American Business History Project” to Special Collections. Consisting of 32 audio interviews and transcripts (and other historical artifacts), this collection provides a useful window to observe the dynamics of local African American entrepreneurship from the mid-20th to the early 21st century. 

How do you think your identity as a Black individual has influenced your teaching or research approach? My identity as a Black individual has influenced my teaching and research. As someone who came of age during the late 1960s, over the years as a history professor, I have sought to contribute to the knowledge base associated with the African American experience. 

What advice would you give to college students? The advice I would give to college students is to pursue your passion. As someone who has written a book on the history of the African American consumer market, I know that material goods are relatively easy to attain in the United States. However, feeling good about what you do for a living (to obtain those material goods), is far more fleeting for many.
Lastly, what does Black History Month mean to you? To me, Black History Month is a time to reflect upon the experiences of transplanted Africans in America. This story contains numerous unsavory and disturbing episodes. Yet, at the same time, it demonstrates the resilience and “grit” of the people known as African Americans.  

About Wichita State University

Wichita State University is Kansas' only urban public research university, enrolling more than 23,000 students between its main campus and WSU Tech, including students from every state in the U.S. and more than 100 countries. Wichita State and WSU Tech are recognized for being student centered and innovation driven.

Located in the largest city in the state with one of the highest concentrations in the United States of jobs involving science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), Wichita State University provides uniquely distinctive and innovative pathways of applied learning, applied research and career opportunities for all of our students.

The Innovation Campus, which is a physical extension of the Wichita State University main campus, is one of the nation’s largest and fastest-growing research/innovation parks, encompassing over 120 acres and is home to a number of global companies and organizations.

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