and Alumni Spotlight
Late Fall/Early Winter 2020
Spotlight on: Khotso Libe (Super Saturdays 1999-2000, SCATS 2000-01, VAMPY 2003-04, Travel to London 2002, Travel to Paris 2003)
Khotso Libe is a systems analyst in the Division of Strategic Enrollment Management and Student Success at the University of Louisville. He earned a BA from Louisville in 2010 with a double major in Pan-African studies and psychology, a Master of Education in college student personnel in 2013, and a MBA with a focus on data analytics in 2019. Prior to his current position, he was a senior academic counselor for the College of Arts and Sciences at Louisville.
We interviewed Khotso as part of our article “Closing the Excellence Gap: Friends of The Center Share Their Stories” in the Fall 2020 issue of The Challenge and wanted to share the full interview here.
Where did you grow up and go to school?
I grew up in Bowling Green. I went to Natcher Elementary and Drakes Creek Middle School and graduated from Greenwood High School.
Did the schools you went to have many other African American students, or were they vastly white?
Vastly white. Even now they don’t have that many students of color.
Did you have any Black teachers?
I had Mr. Stokes in elementary school — he was the PE teacher. At Drake's there was a Black man who was a guidance counselor and taught some classes. At Greenwood, I had two Black women, Ms. Townsend for freshman year English and Ms. Butz, who taught a keyboarding class. That was it. I can count them all.
Do you feel like at any point going through elementary, middle, or high school that you were underestimated?
Sometimes, yes. But being involved with The Center, starting in elementary school with Super Saturdays, gave me some internal “Oh, I can do this. I'm capable.”
One of the things that was upsetting for me was at Drakes Creek I was placed in Pre-algebra in eighth grade when I should have been in Algebra One. But then VAMPY gave me the opportunity to get my Algebra One credit: I took Math at VAMPY the summer before ninth grade, and it put me on a trajectory to complete AP calculus my junior year in high school. It meant a lot to me that I got to do that because math was my favorite subject throughout high school, and I started college as a math major.
What were your friendships like in school?
I was unique from my peers because I was living a couple of different lives, especially as a student of color at this predominantly white high school. There was a handful of Black males in my class, so I hung out with that group. I also hung out with the other Honors kids and had great friendships with them. I did track and field as well. I happen to be pretty friendly, so I had friends in a lot of the corners of the school — I was our student council president. My friend group was mostly from my school until about sophomore or junior year when I started branching out and had a good amount of friends at Bowling Green High — some folks of color, some not.
Did your family expect you to excel?
I was mainly raised by my mom, and she had high expectations for me. She gave me the opportunity to participate in The Center’s programs, which were things that I wanted to do as well. She expected me to have high grades: Cs weren't acceptable for her. I guess she saw something in me. It was huge to have my mom expect a lot and help me have opportunities, like to go abroad with The Center.
I started realizing that having my mom was a difference-maker in high school, especially when my pocket of black male friends didn't have parents who had those same levels of expectations, who didn’t take them on trips to go visit colleges and look up scholarships and things like that. I wasn't doing that stuff on my own: it was definitely my mom, exposing me to these programs, pushing me to do these programs, encouraging me, and giving me these opportunities to continue on with my education. Out of my black male friends whom I'm still friends with today, I was the only one who went off to college. I had unique opportunities, and I attribute all of that to the environment my mom put me in and how she helped me outside of school.
What was college like for you?
A lot of my cultural development journey happened at Louisville. For the first time, I was at school with a significant amount of Black folks with whom I could be entrenched in a community. I knew I wanted to at least minor in Pan African studies, after taking a class and being with Black teachers with an almost all-Black classroom — something that I'd never been exposed to before. We were studying some of the proudest moments of Black history and culture. Also, in freshman year I was involved in starting a group called the Student African American Brotherhood (SAAB). We promoted student success and the image of the Black man, combated negative stereotypes, and talked about what it means to be a Black man in society. We met every Wednesday dressed in professional business attire — shirt, tie, jacket — if you had to borrow something from another member, we made it happen. We were young Black men learning together how to be professionals.
I ended up double majoring in psychology and Pan African studies, and I was heavily involved in the Black community at Louisville. Not only did I end up being president of SAAB, but I was a peer mentor for Connect, a mentoring group where African American upperclassmen mentored first-year African American students. I was also involved with the Association of Black Students as vice president. Louisville created an environment where I could thrive and grow in a safe space with other students of color. Something that we talked in SAAB was being a leader not only in the Black community but on the whole campus, so I did some things with student council and student government as well.
Overall, I’d say college is where things really started to change for me. I grew a lot culturally. Even as I declared Pan African studies as a major, I was starting to grow locs — I just cut them last year, so I had them about ten years. I also was able to go to South Africa for the first time to see my family when I was in undergrad. I was culturally immersed, and that helped me to find who I am.
Did you feel pressure to succeed when you were in high school or in college?
Absolutely, especially in the AP classes where I was the only Black student — I felt like I had to represent the culture. If people were thinking about how Black kids did in that class, I was going to be the face that popped up. I didn’t have the language for the pressure I felt until later: stereotype threat. People did not always expect for me to do well. I felt it even when it was not real.
In college, we were presented with the numbers of how students of color were graduating at much smaller rates than white students, and the numbers for Black males were even lower. The six-year graduation rate was 35-40% university-wide, but for black males it was 10-12%. When we started SAAB, we knew it was not likely all of us were going to graduate together or graduate in six years. We used that knowledge to stick together, help each other out, have study sessions, and check on each other. And that was huge.
So I had a great support system in college, but the pressure to succeed was persistent. I saw students drop out every semester. I felt the constant pressure that “you're not done until you're done.” There’s a track reference I used: you have to run all the way through the finish line.
Given your own experiences, are there any things that you think that schools, from elementary all the way to college, could do better or differently to better support gifted African American students?
My teachers and classmates were all supportive, saying “You belong here.” When I didn't feel like I belonged there, it was imp to have those extra voices saying, “You don't see what I'm seeing here. You do have the potential.” Students of color can get imposter syndrome early, so being able to recognize it is helpful. It’s not unique to students of color, so that message could be for anyone in a high level classroom — that you are here for a reason — it can encourage students even when they may not have that pull in themselves.
Something that was surprising to me when I was mentoring first-year Black students was their reluctance to try the Honors program. Some of my mentees were great and had the GPA they needed for Honors, so I’d tell them they should apply, but they would say, “No, no. I'm not an Honors student. I don't belong there.” I’d say, “Yes, you do,” but there would be something in them where they'd already made up their minds that they weren’t. So it’s essential to have those messages echo throughout your schooling that acknowledge your strengths and say you can succeed.
Also, what made college different from elementary, middle school, and high school was that it had a critical mass, so we could pull Black students together. That's important — we see that with Black fraternities and sororities in higher ed — that's how they got started, and that's how they sustain themselves, getting a group of people together who share a mission that that mission should be succeeding. Some Black fraternities and sororities were formed at predominately white institutions, so it’s important to get those folks together to build that community so they can succeed together and support each other at the same endeavor. It would be great to have a critical mass of Black gifted students at elementary, middle, or high schools to support each other.
Anything else you want to say about The Center programs?
SCATS and VAMPY were memorable, life-changing experiences. It was a great community with engaging classes that kept you stimulated, and of course the fun activities like the dances and Capture the Flag. I got a college experience early. Also, the trips to England and France were my first opportunities traveling abroad and opened my eyes to things outside of America for the first time.
I'm thankful for the programs. I think about those experiences regularly, and about
some of those friends I made. My last year at VAMPY, there were four of us who were
Black males. We called each other One, Two, Three, and Four, referring to how many
Black men were there the year each of us came to camp for the first time. Fark Tari (VAMPY 2001-4, Counselor 2007) was One because he was the only Black male at one
point, I came in the next year so I was Two, Mzee Bw'Ogega (VAMPY 2003-04) was Three because he came the following year, and Dexter Heyman (SCATS 2003, VAMPY 2004) was Four the next year. Dexter’s year was the first time
that there were four of us, and that made it special. I have a picture of us where
we're holding up the numbers one, two, three, and four. Through that comradery, we
ended up being friends for years.
Fark Tari, Khotso Libe, Mzee Bw'Ogega, and Dexter Heyman at VAMPY in 2004.
Past interviews can be found in our Alumni Spotlight Archive.
(posted September 17, 2020)
Carter Adler (VAMPY 1992) lives in Copley, OH, and is second vice president at Mutual of America. He graduated from WKU with a BA in music in 2000 and from Michigan State in 2005 with an MBA in integrative management. He is on Facebook at Carter Adler.
Erik Bishop (SCATS 2014-16, VAMPY 2016) graduated from Bishop Brady High School this spring. He will attend Saint Anselm College in Manchester, NH, to pursue a major in politics with a pre-law course of study. He writes: “In 2017 we moved back to New England and settled in Salisbury, NH. I fully immersed myself into New Hampshire's Catholic community when I became a member of the Catholic Church in 2018. That year, I also decided to go into politics and attended all the Granite State debates. In 2019, I attended Boys State at Saint Anselm College and shortly after started working with the NH Trump Victory team. I am excited for the future, but I will always remember the friends I made at SCATS and VAMPY, from Dr. Roberts to her daughter, Julie, as well as the Inmans, the Guthries, and others. I still have all the yearbooks from the years I attended.”
Cody Crofford (Super Saturdays 1998-89, SCATS 2004) of Blacksburg, VA, earned a BS in aerospace engineering from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) in 2014. She is currently working on a master’s in computer engineering, with a focus in machine learning and computer vision, at Virginia Tech with an anticipated graduation date of May 2021. She is also an intern at Graf Research. She writes, “I was a systems safety engineer at Bastion technologies as an on-site NASA contractor. I worked on the Propulsion and Abort system safety of the Space Launch System. I also worked as a software test engineer as a General Dynamics contractor on NASA's Space Network Ground Segment Sustainment program.” Among the classes she recalls taking through The Center are Intro to Mandarin Chinese, Programming in C++, Programming in Q Basics, and Computer Hardware where “we took old PCs apart and put them back together and learned how the components worked together.”
Declan Delaney (SCATS 2015, VAMPY 2016-18) graduated from Mt. Juliet High School in spring 2020.
Daniel Flener (SCATS 2001) received a BA from WKU in 2012 in broadcast journalism with minors in film and creative writing, and an MFA from Butler University in creative writing. He is the college communications coordinator at Georgetown College. He writes, “I remember taking a course in British Literature of the 1940s at SCATS. We read these amazing short stories and discussed them for the entire class period. As a young person not yet in high school, this was exhilarating. It made me think about literature in an entirely new way and really paved the road for me to go on to achieve a Master's in creative writing and to work primarily as a writer in higher education. I am the primary editor of the Georgetown College magazine and primary news story writer for the college, so my writing skills get put to use every day. I also oversee the college's social media channels, so the communications skills from my BA are also utilized. I married my wife, Geena, in the summer of 2017, and we now have one son, Ezra, who was born in July 2019. We also have a dog named Storm, and she's really the one who runs our household."
Scott Grant (VAMPY 1995-97) earned a BS in accounting from Murray State in 2007 and an MBA in finance with an accounting emphasis from Murray State in 2009. He is an assistant accounting manager at sgsco in Louisville, and his work has taken him to Africa and Asia. He on Facebook as Scott Grant.
Kamrin Green (SCATS 2014-16, VAMPY 2017) graduated from South Warren High School this spring. She will be attending the University of Louisville as a member of the class of 2024 and plans to major in bioengineering with a minor in Spanish. She is on Instagram at kami.green45.
Holly Harris (SCATS 2006) graduated from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville (UTK) in 2015 with a major in architecture and a minor in business administration. She lives in Chicago where she works for SmithGroup as a licensed architect practicing healthcare with experience in strategic master planning and renovations. She currently serves as the co-chair of the AIA Chicago Healthcare Knowledge Community and as vice president of the UTK Chicago Alumni Chapter. In 2019, she was recognized as a Herman Miller Scholar for emerging professionals in healthcare design.
Elena Jolly (VAMPY 2018) graduated from duPont Manual High School this spring. She is a member of the class of 2024 at the University of Missouri, where she is studying political science and is in the Honors College. In the summer of 2020, she worked as a camp counselor at Louisville Nature Center, which helps educate children ages four and up about nature through fun activities.
Terry McMahan (SCATS 1986) graduated from Centre College with a BS in math in 1994 and from Emory University with an MBA in 2003. He lives in Brookhaven, GA, and is the director of product development at TransUnion. He still remembers “making a camera made out of an oatmeal container” at SCATS. He is on Facebook at Terry McMahan and on Twitter and Instagram at tdmac45.
Rachel Smith Moriarty (Super Saturdays 1998, SCATS 1998-2000, VAMPY 2001-02) graduated from Wake Forest University with a BA in communications and minor in sociology in 2008 and received a certificate in accounting from the University of Virginia in 2019. She is a state associations specialist at the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization in Manassas, VA. She says, “I loved my times at SCATS and VAMPY! I have fond memories of playing in the water fountain, the games, etc., and I still talk to a few of my friends from back then even though it's almost 20 years later! I learned a lot both academically and about life. Being on a campus and away from home was a fabulous learning experience. It helped prepare me for the future, and I wouldn't trade the experiences I had there, for anything.” She is on Facebook as Rachel Moriarty.
John Nieri (VAMPY 1992) received his BS in 2001 from Vanderbilt in electrical engineering, computer science, and math. He lives in Kobe, Japan, where he is the president at General Protocols. He writes, "I hope you will learn as much as you can at every step, and leave the world better than you found it. Some steps I have taken: generalprotocols.com, tgl.co.jp,kotai-bio.com, berlitz.co.jp, ni.com/ja-jp.html, and ni.com/en-us.html.” You can follow him on Twitter at emergent_reasons.
Steffanie Skiles (SCATS 2007-08, VAMPY 2009), who teaches band and choir at McKell Middle School, was one of 24 Kentucky educators selected by the Kentucky Department of Education and Valvoline Inc. as recipients of the 2021 Valvoline™ Teacher Achievement Awards. These teachers qualified to compete for the 2021 Kentucky Teacher of the Year Award. She also received the Greenup County Public Schools “Above and Beyond Award,” the Kentucky Music Educators Association District 8 Middle School Teacher of the Year Award, and Campbellsville University’s Middle School Excellence in Teaching Award for Greenup County. Steffanie graduated from Morehead State University with a BA in music education in 2017. She reports that her twin sister, Samantha Skiles (SCATS 2007-08, VAMPY 2009), is engaged and is a civil engineer in Indianapolis. Steffanie says, “I have the dream job: I get to work in a career I love (music), and I get to help students like me when I was in school. My future plans resemble my current ones: keep playing trumpet, teaching kids, and trying to help them. I loved my time spent at The Center. I’m still friends with my campmates and counselors. The Center was the one place I felt academically at home and was surrounded by people just like me. My sister and I grew up quite poor, but we were fortunate to be sponsored to attend SCATS and VAMPY. Then, by extension, we were able to get full rides to several different colleges. We both majored in what we love. Because of these educational opportunities, we have bettered ourselves and improved our lives. I cannot thank Dr. Roberts and The Center enough for what they did for us and what they continue to do today for others.”
Wesley Tinley (VAMPY 1994-97) graduated from Kennesaw State University in 2010 with a BA in history and a BS mechanical engineering. He lives in Smyrna, GA.