Bonnie Brown: Q&A with Emeritus of Secondary Science Education, Dr. Larry Hanshaw

*Editor’s Note: The latest installment in the Ole Miss Retirees features is Dr. Larry Hanshaw, Professor Emeritus of Secondary Science Education. The organization’s mission is to enable all of the university’s faculty and staff retirees to maintain and promote a close association with the university. It is the goal of the Ole Miss Faculty/Staff Retirees Association to maintain communication by providing opportunities to attend and participate in events and presentations.

Dr. Larry Hanshaw has had a distinguished career in the School of Education as a professor and also as an author.  He credits the influence of his family with his career path and success. Read about his Ole Miss story here.  

Brown:  Where did you grow up?  What was special about this place? 

Hanshaw:  I grew up in Pascagoula, Mississippi on the Mississippi Gulf Coast (i.e., merged with Scranton, Mississippi in 1912).  It is a town with a rich history (i.e., the name means “bread eaters”) and has a legend borne from two lovers from different tribes who marched into the Pascagoula River to forever be together.  Their singing and that of others who supported them can be heard as a result of their attempt to avoid death and war with the Biloxi tribe living between Biloxi and Pascagoula. Hence, the name “Singing River.”  The local hospital bears this name to this day. There is also a French, Creole, and Spanish contribution to the heritage of this fishing and industrial town. The Skip Jack (early nuclear submarine) was partly built here at Ingalls Ship Building Corporation.  My ancestral family came to this area before what is now Pascagoula in the late 1860s when five brothers and one sister, who were freed slaves, settled here from North Carolina. I will (again) host the Bilbo Family Reunion in 2021, but this time on the coast.  

Brown:  Please talk about your childhood, parents, and siblings. 

Hanshaw:  I am the third child of James and Marguerite Hanshaw. One brother, James A., and one sister, Corine V., are older.  I have two younger brothers, Michael A. and Walter A. My dad was a long-distance truck driver, served in the U. S. Army, and passed away when I was in 10th grade.  My mother worked for a number of years as a cook in the Pascagoula school system. When asked to apply for a job with the new Sears & Roebuck store by the manager of the catalog store in downtown Pascagoula, she did.  I often saw her studying the practice questions for the exam she needed to pass and a few times she asked me to help with some of the questions. I was honored. My mother passed with high scores on all parts of the test.  I was not surprised since my mother was the top student in her graduating class at Pascagoula Negro High School. Starting out dusting shelves at Sears on HWY 90 East, she became a Department Head and retired as a Division Manager over men’s and women’s clothing, jewelry, and the candy/nuts departments.  My oldest brother was my role model. He was smart, athletic, and strong. I became a lifeguard because he had been one. He taught me how to tie a figure-eight knot in my ties, how to safely change a blade on a lawnmower, and how to safely lift weights. I would watch him work on automobiles and listened to everything he had to say about life in general.  He retired from the U. S. Air Force as a B-52 Crew Chief, earned an MEd in Social Studies at the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) in Hattiesburg, and taught social studies for several years in both Pascagoula and Gautier schools. One of his former students was in my class at Ole Miss and told me how much students loved him, and missed him a lot when he changed schools.  He was also a master carpenter and repaired the homes of several folks in the community who suffered storm damage. They would always ask him to do such work again because they knew it would be done correctly. My kind of guy and my brother. He is survived by a former wife and a son and daughter.  

My sister, Corine, was a very talented musician. She graduated salutatorian in her high school class and magna cum laude from college at Mississippi Valley State University (MVSU) in Itta Bena.   After earning her Master’s in music at VanderCook College of Music in Chicago and teaching for several years in Mississippi, Delaware, and Maryland, she earned a Ph.D. in Higher Education at Mississippi State University in Starkville, Mississippi.  I actually had a small role in recruiting Corine to the job in Delaware when a fellow fraternity brother asked if I knew anyone who could fill a job vacancy he had at the local high school. I told him I did and that he could judge for himself to see if she was what he was looking for.  She was. Her record as a band director and musician spoke volumes and she got the job. Even during graduate school, Corine never gave up on music and had stints playing in churches in Columbus and Pascagoula as a service to her faith as a practicing catholic. I miss and love my siblings and parents and I am a better person for having followed in their footsteps trying to do my best in all things.  

Michael is the younger brother who blazed new trails.  He was active in church and served as assistant superintendent and sang tenor in the choir at Union Baptist.  He played the trumpet and trombone in the band at Carver High. He graduated valedictorian in his high school class, was a star athlete in football, and achieved the rank of Order of the Arrow in the Boy Scouts of America.  In later years, his ability to singled to a choir scholarship at MVSU in Itta Bena. During college, Mike joined the Air Force ROTC and later became a fighter pilot and also trained other pilots. He went on to earn his MBA and at the rank of Lt. Colonel commanded half of Maxwell AFB in Montgomery, Alabama during his twenty years in the military.  Mike even had time to bring Mom and our nephew to Korea for a short visit. He has been active socially in the Optimist Club, in his church as Treasurer, and also served as a President of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity in Montgomery, Alabama. In his second career, he became a Captain and flew jets for FedEx for 20 years. He is a father of 4. He and his wife live in Hope Hull, Alabama.  

My youngest brother, Walter, earned his BA degree in Radio-Television-Film at USM.  He was a radio personality for a while at WTAM, in Gulfport, and had his own nightly show on the weekends.  I listened in a time or two when visiting home as he and his guests discussed various topics during his show.   His radio call name was “the sexy Sagittarian.” Walt has over 40 years of experience working as a Health Physics Technician at nuclear power plants all over the country.  He has been awarded citations of merit for his safety recommendations protecting persons who must work near or handle radioactive materials and was instrumental in persuading me to give the industry a try before I became a radio chemist in 1987.  He has a son and a daughter. He and his wife live in Pascagoula.

Brown:  What was your high school experience like?  Were you a good student? What was your favorite subject? 

Hanshaw:  After eighth grade, my mom told me that if I wanted to go to college, I would need to help her out (my older brother and sister were already in college).  I responded by becoming valedictorian in the class of ‘65 (3.95/4.00) and receiving three college scholarships. I also won a local scholarship sponsored by the Jackson County Teachers Association for having the highest ACT score.  

I played the trumpet in the high school band, won trophies for sight-reading, and designed a halftime homecoming show for the band.  I sang in the choir at Carver High and won second place at the district choir festival for the tenor aria Every Valley Shall Be Exalted. I was president of the band and the science club and won school, district, and state science fair awards for testing the effects of rocket flights on the maze-running ability of mice I trained.  I designed and built the maze partly from crossword puzzles I saw in the local paper.  

My favorite subjects were science (chemistry) and mathematics and I received top awards for chemistry, physics, mathematics, the most outstanding student, and the Most Likely to Succeed.  I continue to this day trying to live up to our class motto: To Achieve and To Be Is To Be Educated.

Brown:  Where did you go to school? 

Hanshaw:  I attended Tougaloo College and majored in chemistry and minored in mathematics. During those four years, I was selected to attend a pre-graduate school program at Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts and worked in a summer program at the Forest Products Research Laboratory (FPRL) in Madison, Wisconsin. While there, I assisted a project chemist in an effort to remove lignan from aspen wood and convert aspen tree fibers into a food source for cows.  Later I used thin layer chromatography techniques I learned at the FPRL in a project I designed to satisfy a biology requirement my senior year. In this project, I applied the chromatography techniques to samples of solid human feces collected from a random sample of African American males (including me) in order to assess the amount of undigested lactose in the samples. The findings might have nutritional implications for lactose intolerance found among participants in the study.  I also joined Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., served as the defense attorney for the student council, was a Rhodes Scholar honorable mention, and worked with other fraternity members during the spring in our voter registration drive in southwest Jackson.

I was president of my class at Tougaloo and was honored to have been selected by my classmates to deliver a speech this past May celebrating 50 years since graduation of the Class of 1969.  It was indeed a privilege to have this role during the Golden Anniversary Celebration sponsored by Tougaloo College.

Dr. Hanshaw at the Golden Anniversary class celebration at Tougaloo College, May 2019

Brown:  Who influenced your career choice? How old were you when you decided on your career path?  

Hanshaw:  A major influence on my career choice began by watching an older cousin perform experiments with a chemistry set my uncle gave him for Christmas.  After he graduated two years later from a school in the Mississippi Delta, he gave what was left of the chemicals to me and the booklet of instructions for how to perform experiments safely.  I was also greatly influenced by sci-fi flicks seen on Channel 6 WDSU out of New Orleans as well as all the 50’s and 60’s Frankenstein, werewolf, monster insects, and invaders from outer space movies I could watch.  I read some comic book characters (Superman and Batman), but soon shows like the Twilight Zone, the Green Door, and Inner Sanctum, and later, the Outer Limits, captured my full attention. Star Trek came later, but chemistry majors at Tougaloo did not have time to watch TV.  Still, nothing was out of bounds; especially the possibility of life beyond earth. Chemistry, physics, biology, and math were parts of the subject matter in all these shows (as well as my curriculum) and I, subsequently, considered old truths to be prime targets for further investigation.  Between the 7th grade (about age 13), when I was asked to go from class to class by my homeroom teacher to explain what was happening on TV at Cape Canaveral, Florida (Alan Shepard’s historic suborbital flight), and my freshman year at Tougaloo (age 18), when few of my friends in the sciences believed in the possibility of extra-solar life, my career path was set.  I felt I could use the sciences and mathematics to do anything I wanted because all these subjects shared relationships with each other. I settled on chemistry (over biology) because chemistry kept me closer to both mathematics and physics.

Brown:  Tell us how/when your Ole Miss “story” began?  Talk about the interview (who you met with, your impressions of campus, etc).  

Hanshaw:  My Ole Miss “story” began when I was recruited to Ole Miss by Dr. Lucius Williams, Dean James Payne, and Vice-Chancellor H. Ray Hoops. Each of these individuals felt that I offered teaching and research skills that would contribute to making the School of Education and the University of Mississippi a better experience for students and, in return, give me an opportunity to more fully develop my teaching, research, and service abilities. I met and worked with faculty and administrators who convinced me through their support that Ole Miss was a place where I could be successful and help the University reach its goals at the same time.  Both of us benefitted. I talked about courses I taught at Alcorn State and Jackson State, research experiences at two national laboratories, and certain (allowed) aspects of my employment as a radiochemist at Grand Gulf Nuclear in Port Gibson, Mississippi. I also discussed my role as a Danforth Foundation Fellow and Faculty Representative. In the latter role, I worked with the Graduate School Dean, Academic Dean, and top administrators to enact mandatory procedures that department chairs had to follow regarding promotion dossiers of Alcorn State faculty members. Overall, I believe faculty attending my presentation learned a lot about why I would be a worthy addition to the faculty at Ole Miss and in the School of Education.    

Brown:  Who hired you?  How long did you work at Ole Miss? 

Hanshaw:  Drs. James Payne, Carolyn Leggett (and later, Peggy Emerson), and Lucius Williams paved the way for me.  Dr. Michael Dingerson, then Dean of the Graduate School, enabled my involvement in the Mississippi Alliance for Minority Participation (MAMP) program as a member of the Ole Miss team that led to the grant’s success.  Later, I was named the Site Coordinator for the MAMP program at Ole Miss. I recruited the first 29 minority students into MAMP. The majority of these students later enrolled at Ole Miss and majored in the sciences and science education. It was the beginning of my 25-year career at the University of Mississippi. 

Brown:  What did you know about Ole Miss before you accepted a position here? 

Hanshaw:  The history of the University of Mississippi is tied to this state and nation. Times and people change for the better and grow and so did Ole Miss. I knew the history of this state (I took Mississippi history in high school), watched the news, and read newspapers. I knew the context of my decision to bring my family to Ole Miss.  As a professional educator, I have never wilted in the face of a challenge and so I accepted the opportunity to come to Ole Miss. I took advantage of offers that also benefitted my spouse. I can say without reservations that all parties involved got what was expected and more.

Brown:  Describe your most memorable days at work.  

Hanshaw:  My most memorable days at work were all the days I spent in the classroom.  To have students return to Ole Miss to pursue graduate degrees in education (some of whom I taught as undergraduates) and have them say that they enjoyed my style of helping them to learn is a feeling beyond measure.  Beyond the classroom were the many hours spent working with students on doctoral committees. I loved this one-on-one meeting of the minds and students would often ask me if they could tell friends in various School of Education programs about the quality of help they got.  I never refused to help a graduate student who asked for help. Sharing ideas on doctoral committees with candidates and other committee members kept my skills sharp. Overall, nothing beats seeing those smiles and tears of joy when doctoral candidates learn that their dissertation defense was successful.

Brown:  What do you consider to be the highlight of your career? 

Hanshaw:  Achieving the rank of full professor and retiring with the honor of Professor Emeritus of Secondary Science Education and receiving a Distinguished Service Citation from Chancellor Dan Jones would be at the top of the list. These achievements are just ahead of achieving tenure under Chancellor Robert Khayat in 1995.  Refereed articles were published in both instances, but the publication of my first book along with an earlier article in the top journal in my field (Journal of Science Education) was crowning accomplishments since both were based upon my dissertation.  These accomplishments were personally important to me. As of 2014 when I retired, no one else in the 25 years I was in the School of Education had a publication in the previously-mentioned journal.   

Brown:  What accomplishment are you most proud of? 

Hanshaw:  I am most proud of my record as a teacher and researcher.  I tried to put into practice the research-based ideas relating to how best to help students learn.  I published a book about my approach to learning (cooperative learning and testing) accomplished in small groups.  Students over the years thanked me for the many positive experiences they had working in small groups and testing in small groups (including making higher grades).  Many other students used the same approach in their own classrooms and got similar results and responses from their students. 

Brown:  If there was something in your past you were able to go back and do differently, what would that be?  

Hanshaw:  I would ask the Board of Education and the Superintendent of schools in the Pascagoula School District to offer calculus and physics in the school curriculum of all high schools in the district.  Such offerings then (1961-1965) would have made my science and math background more like that of students who attended high schools in towns like Rolling Fork, Vicksburg, Greenville, and Yazoo City. Requiring labs for these classes with adequate equipment to perform experiments also would be tops on my list. The cities I named were hometowns of classmates at Tougaloo College.  Pascagoula had Ingalls Shipbuilding Corporation, so money could not have been the issue. 

Brown:  What is the best advice you ever received? 

Hanshaw:  The advice I received was that I should not stop my education until I earned the Ph.D.  I listened and earned it in 1976. My education has continued, of course, in many other ways.  A friend and my youngest brother, for example, suggested that I would enjoy working at a nuclear power plant.  They were right and I became a radiochemist at Grand Gulf Nuclear Station in Port Gibson after 10 years at Alcorn State.

Brown:  What advice would you give to your 20-year-old self? 

Hanshaw:  At the age of 20 (1966), I would advise myself to expand my career choices. I wanted to become a chemist and I did. But I also could have become a dentist (my second career choice).  I needed a stronger background in biology. I ran out of time to fit the needed subjects into my schedule during my undergraduate years. 

Brown:  What one question can you ask someone to find out the most about them?  

Hanshaw:  What do you think people like most and least about you?  

Brown:  What do you do to improve your mood when you are in a bad mood? 

Hanshaw:  I usually try to give myself time to identify the problem or issue and work the “problem” and not focus much on any personalities that may be associated with the problem.  This includes self-inflicted contributions to the mood in which I might find myself; the “man in the mirror” analysis.

Brown:  If money were no object, where would you like to go on vacation?

Hanshaw:  I would like to visit for a year or so in southern Africa where my ancestral people came from to hear (and possibly learn) the language(s) spoken there.  I also would like to learn more about the customs and family values practiced at this time and how different they might be from the past.

Brown:  Tell us something about yourself that not many people may know.  

Hanshaw:  Partly as a result of playing in the high school band since sixth grade and singing in the church and high school choirs, many people may not know that I listen to a wide variety of music: Soul, R & B, Country, Gospel, Classical, Rap, Hip-Hop, Latin (Santana), Caribbean (Bob Marley), African (Michael Olatunji), and Classic Rock (Eagles, Jimi Hendricks, ZZ Top), for example.  I have albums by these artists and others. I have collected music since I was 10th grade. Cutting lawns during the summer months while in high school and working as a lifeguard at the local recreation center helped me afford this hobby.

Brown:  I know you have two children.  Please tell us where they are and what they are doing now.  

Hanshaw:  Nneka (nay-cah) and her family (girl-boy-girl) live in Indianapolis, Indiana.  She holds a Ph.D. in synthetic organic chemistry and is a project leader of a group of scientists on the regulatory side of Dow-Dupont’s agricultural business interests. Nneka’s husband is a financial planner for Edward Jones.

Okera (o-care-rah), the younger of my children, is an anesthesiologist and lives in Decatur, Georgia.  His wife is a pediatrician and they have three girls. My children share the same birth date, April 8, three years apart.

Dr. Hanshaw with son Okera and daughter Nneka

Brown:  What “old person” things do you do? 

Hanshaw:  I fix things around the house and take care of my dog.  Beyond that, I watch news and sports programming as well as programs about car repair and restoration.  I also pay close attention to anything out of the ordinary with respect to my health. I am seldom sick, but I am on a weight loss program with about 10 more pounds to drop.  I intend to sharpen my golf game now that I have more time—if the weather cooperates. 

Brown:  What gives you great joy?  

Hanshaw:  I love to discuss and research unusual topics.  I just finished my second book, High Probability: Findings From A Study of CE4, UFO, and USO Experiences, which is now available on Amazon.com.  I began researching and writing the book about five years ago, in part, to address a central question:  What if abductees are telling the truth? For those who are not familiar with these world-wide phenomena, I invite you to join the discussion and read the book. When you finish, email me at lhanshaw@bellsouth.net and let me know what you think.

Brown:  What do you do to relax? 

Hanshaw:  I try to relax using a prayer here and there throughout the day. My personal relationship with God has been the one action I don’t have to buy to get relief from worrying about world affairs or the occasional disagreement about what-ever with whom-ever.  I also relax by dancing to (and singing) favorite tunes. I still read about topics of interest to me as well as works by a variety of great writers and poets. I especially like the love poets, but read (and read again) a wide variety of works: “My Last Duchess” by Robert Browning, “The Tyger” by William Blake,  “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley, and Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise.” Watching selections from my sci-fi collection is also relaxing.

Brown:  What has become your routine since you retired?  Do you have hobbies? 

Hanshaw:  My basic routine since retirement involves keeping my shooting skills sharp with occasional visits to Hunter’s Hollow.  I was in the National Guard in both Delaware and here in Mississippi. I also enjoy participating in civic-oriented activities through my service as an electronic poll book worker during elections.  I have plans to try my hand at drone flying and infra-red photography. I also take multiple naps!

Brown:  To quote Katherine Meadowcroft, Cultural activist and writer, “What one leaves behind is the quality of one’s life, the summation of the choices and actions one makes in this life, our spiritual and moral values.”  What is your legacy? 

Hanshaw:   I believe my legacy is best described by two value-laden quotes:   But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” (1 Cor. 15:10) and Henry David Thoreau’s “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears however measured or far away.”


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