Through the donations and contributions of alumni and various foundations, the Institute has been able to establish many school-specific grants and scholarships.
One such program was established in 1995 by the Phillips Petroleum Foundation and gave the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering a grant to establish the C.J. “Pete” Silas Program in Ethics and Leadership.
It was named after Tech’s Class of ‘53 CHBE alumnus, Pete Silas, due to his great achievements within the realm of engineering. He acted as both president and CEO of Phillips Petroleum prior to his retirement in 1994.
Overall, the program aims to highlight “ethics, leadership, strong communication skills and professionalism, [as they are] essential components of an engineering education.”
Moreover, it focuses on “technical and business decisions that have ethical ramifications.”
Pete Silas recognized that these were difficult topics to grasp. In order to effectively emphasize these pillars, the initiative involves allowing prominent individuals to share their expertise in a public symposium.
Previous lecturers include Tech’s President Emeritus, G. Wayne Clough, and the former chairman and CEO of Coca-Cola Enterprises, John F. Brock.
This year, the Tech alum and mayor of Atlanta, Andre Dickens, spoke at the lecture.
In his talk, Dickens detailed Atlanta’s importance in his life and his current position as mayor.
He recognized how Atlanta was essential to his development — mostly because he only attended schools within the city.
He received his elementary and high school education from a public school in Adamsville.
Dickens said that he “grew up in a very working class area and did not hear about college until he was 10 years old. Until that point, [he aspired] to be a professional baseball player.”
Though he eventually graduated from Tech, it was not on his radar until his late teens.
One summer, he attended a program here called MITE, or Minorities Interested in Technology and Engineering.
Following his experience at the camp and the exposure he received to STEM disciplines, he decided to apply to the Institute.
At Tech, Dickens was highly involved. He said that he was a part of “the Student Government Association (SGA), the African American Student Union and Greek life. [I] also co-opted for CHBE companies seven times.”
Additionally, Dickens said that he “was really learning about constituent services and community outreach as a student.” Dickens received his CHBE degree in 1988.
Following his graduation, Mayor Dickens was a practicing engineer for a few years until he decided that he wanted to return to college.
He soon received a master’s degree in Administration and Economic Development from Georgia State University, which is located just a few miles from Tech.
Surprisingly, his recent political ventures did not begin for a while longer; he spent a few years curating a furniture business and also pursued a career in sales. The furniture business he co-founded was called City Living Home Furnishings.
Dickens outlined that running his business was vital for providing him with a foundation on ethics. He also worked at DSM Engineering Plastics and noted that his career in sales was concentrated in plastics.
He knew that the switch from engineering to sales would be seamless because “[he] knew his product as well as the technicalities. This made [him] more personable and honest about what he could deliver.”
During the talk at the symposium, Dickens admitted that his career switches were drastic ones; he figured that many would question why he was an engineer, a salesman and then the mayor.
However, Dickens said he “aspired to be mayor of Atlanta for a significant portion of his life.”
At age 12, he met then Mayor Andrew Young in a grocery store, who left a great impression on him.
Until that point, “[he] had only recognized him as a person on television,” but meeting him in-person had evoked a sense of admiration.
Dickens also looked up to another political figure: former Mayor Shirley Franklin. He first encountered her through his childhood friend, who was her son.
He also interacted with her because she served as Mayor Young’s Chief Administrator.
During the lecture, he mentioned that after meeting her, his desire to pursue a career as mayor was solidified; he was around 16 at the time.
Dickens also said that “[he] thinks of her as a mentor especially because [he] believes that she instituted most of the ethics policies we have now.” She went on to assist him during his own campaign years later.
Following his discussion of his schooling, Dickens spoke about his recent campaign.
He wanted to emphasize that “this past campaign was the most data-driven one.”
In his own approach, “[he] wished to be balanced and honest.” Dickens said that he thinks honesty and transparency led to his win.
Dickens also answered some of the audience’s questions following the lecture.
One attendee asked “how he came to conclusions with individuals that had fundamentally different philosophies from him?”
Dickens answered that “[he] liked to draw circles to find commonalities and look for the common good.”
He advises others in similar situations to amicably disagree and be intentional in going towards the right path.
Overall, Dickens pointedly made intentionality a major theme in his conversation.
He noted that, when trying to lead an ethical life, intentionality is one of the most important actions to practice.
For more information about Dickens, refer to andreforatlanta.com.
Additionally, for more information regarding the annual Silas Lecture, please visit chbe.gatech.edu/phillips-66-cj-pete-silas-program-ethics-and-leadership.
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