EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --
The guest speaker at Black History Month celebration here Feb. 15 encouraged the audience to become part of the solution to this year’s theme, “The Crisis in Black Education.”
Col. Terrence Mitchell, 96th Medical Group’s medical chief of staff, spoke on the topic at the Air Force Armament Museum.
Among early comments, he said color should not be a barrier to a good education.
“The crisis in black education is real, but it does not mean if you are black, you cannot become educated and pursue whatever passion you choose,” said Mitchell.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering mechanics before receiving an Air Force commission in 1988. He went on to earn a master’s degree in engineering management and a doctoral degree.
The Colorado Springs, Colo. native said neither of his parents went to college, but they took some college classes while raising their family. They made their children’s education a top priority.
“My parents told us we needed to go to college and do better than they did,” said the 1988 Air Force Academy graduate.
His initial interest in math and science started with his father taking him to baseball games in the early 1970s.
“I would keep score with my own score card, which a lot of people don’t do anymore,” Mitchell said. “I would compare my score to the final score on the scoreboard and figure out batting averages. There is a science to it.”
Mitchell credited, among other influences, a high school minority counselor and an English teacher with nurturing his talents and challenging him academically. This collective mentorship led to him apply to the academy to pursue his engineering degrees.
“The best part about the Air Force Academy is it offered me a free education,” said the colonel.
After four years in engineering acquisition, Mitchell made a career change. He saw similarities in engineering and medicine, but decided the latter was his true calling.
“I didn’t know any black physicians while I was in high school, but I loved math and science,” he said. “Many of the thought processes that go into engineering directly apply to medicine.”
The father of two also said his family’s support played a major role in his career transition.
“I had a more than understanding wife and children,” said the colonel, recalling his early struggles with a pre-requisite medical class. “My wife was very direct with me. She said ‘if you’re going to do it, just do it, and quit talking about it. But you’ve got two years to do it, otherwise forget about it and move on.’”
The physician powered through his classes, earned his M.D. in 2000, and has been happy in his career field ever since.
“I consider myself a rare person,” said Mitchell, who is currently studying medical acupuncture. “I have a job and an occupation I have a passion for. I’ve never truly worked a day since being in medicine.”
The 20-year veteran said he appreciates every educational opportunity the Air Force gave him. He encouraged all service members in attendance to seek out the higher learning benefits the military offers.
“Continue to further your own personal education,” Mitchell said. “If you are on active duty and you aren’t taking full advantage of tuition assistance, you are wrong. I hope all of you make an internal commitment to life-long learning.”
School systems should be held accountable to give students the best quality education possible and teachers should hold children accountable in their education progress, he added.
In closing, Mitchell challenged the audience to make every day a learning day, and pay it forward.
“We are role models, even if we don’t want to be or think we are,” he said. “Set the example. Give 100 percent of yourselves on a daily basis to nurturing the children in your lives. Challenge them to be better than they were the day before. I hope you all will become mentors and nurture others, as I was nurtured.”