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Saturday, June 22, 2024

South Carolina State Engineering Tech Major & Athlete Graduates With Perfect Grade Point Average

What do 4.0 and 7 feet have in common?

The answer is Dallas James, a South Carolina State University engineering technology student graduating with a perfect grade point average – a record he achieved while playing all four years as a 7-foot center for the Bulldogs basketball team

“It wasn’t exactly difficult. It was a lot of work, but it wasn’t difficult because it was what I wanted to do,” James said. “I don’t like going anywhere and not giving it my absolute best and full focus. So, it was really easy to choose basketball and to choose school over any other distractions that might have come my way.

“I didn’t refuse to have fun, but school and basketball always came first, and I’m happy I chose what I did,” he said.

A native of La Palma, California, in the Los Angeles area, James got the bug for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in elementary school. He credits Steve Alfi, an advanced math teacher at Gahr High School with sealing is interests in computerization and engineering. 

“It was a lot like the professors here, where you know a smaller number of professors and you know them really well,” James said. “He spent a lot of extra time making sure everybody understood everything. He would make sure you knew your weaknesses, make sure you knew your strengths and make sure you knew how to improve over the summer.”

As a high academic achiever, James spent his senior year of high school at City Honors International Preparatory Academy, which did not have a basketball program, so the school’s students played at nearby Inglewood High School.

He planned to study computer engineering, but since SC State did not yet offer the field as a major, he entered his freshman year in computer science. “There wasn’t enough hands-on work for what I want to do compared to all the coding,” he said.

“I looked into other majors and discovered that electrical engineering was actually more of what I was hoping I would get out of computer engineering with data processing, signal processing and understanding circuits and electricity with an emphasis on physics.”

What is it about STEM fields that appeal so much to James? Magic.

“Magic doesn’t really exist in the world, but through knowledge, we can make magical things happen. When you’re a child, the TV is just a magic box, and you just accept that.”

“Then you come to understand all the development that goes into making the TV and all the maintenance that goes into taking care of it from power generation all the way down to all the various parts on the motherboard that allow it to function as it does,” he said. “Everything comes together in one product, and that’s just for consumer electronics.

“There’s so much more that goes into everyday life that if understood allows us to be more efficient and allows society to function as it does today. When I am out working and fulfilling my occupational obligations, I’d like those obligations to improve society,” James said.

That’s where the next phase of his education comes in. James elected to stay at SC State for a master’s degree in intelligent transportation systems.

“Transportation engineering is the intersection of electrical engineering and civil engineering,” he said. “It includes everything from how highways are managed to promote the optimal flow of traffic to how trains are routed. It’s everything about how persons move through society.”

James cited Orangeburg’s non-computerized streetlights to illustrate how transportation engineering can improve efficiency.

“Having a computer control something versus a singular mechanical relay makes it a lot easier to adjust because computers are more flexible, and you can do that from far away,” he said. “If there’s a fault, it’s more efficient to switch a computer than to go over and replace an entire mechanical relay that’s analog and to make sure that it works. You just have a bunch of computers that do the same thing quicker.

“That same logic applies to transportation. It’s really interesting to see how that works, especially with the advent of machine learning,” he said. “Even computerized streetlights make mistakes. Even computerized trains make mistakes. It’s rare that they make lethal mistakes, but there are still opportunities for efficiency.

“Having machine learning increase better signal processing capability is going to be part of improving transportation, and I would love to be a part of that,” James said.

Because the NCAA awarded athletes an extra year of eligibility during the COVID-19 pandemic, which was at its height during his freshman year, James will continue to play for the Bulldogs next season.

“I’ve been working, but I still feel like I have more to give to the game,” he said. “I’m very excited to be able to continue that here at SC State under Coach Erik Martin.”

Again, he expects to easily manage his athletics and graduate school obligations.

“It was very rare for school and basketball to have a conflict with each other because they’re part of the same organization,” he said. “There’s a lot of free time even while you’re traveling for basketball that I spend completing my homework and various other obligations.

“It was nice to have a balance because no matter what, I was doing something productive,” James said.

That’s a mature perspective for a college-age student. “You can thank my parents (Jerome James and Cyndi Lynne Jackson) for that,” he said. “Before I was ever handed a basketball, I was handed flashcards.”

Still, basketball was a bit of a given. James always knew he would be tall, since his father is 7 feet, 2 inches tall. Jerome James spent 11 years in the NBA with the Sacramento Kings, the Seattle Supersonics and the New York Nicks after his collegiate playing career at Florida A&M University (FAMU) in the mid-1990s.

Back then, FAMU and SC State were in the same athletics conference. That brought the younger James a connection to his dad when Bulldogs alumnus Raheem Waller rejoined the SC State coaching staff during James’ sophomore year.

“I’ll definitely never forget Coach Waller,” he said. “Coach Waller played against my dad when he was in the MEAC before FAMU left, and it’s been nice having him here because it’s almost like having your uncle. That’s the type of person he is – just how he takes care of his players. That’s what he is to me.”

James is among approximately 250 students who will receive degrees from SC State on Friday, May 10. Open to the public, the Spring Commencement ceremony will begin at 10 a.m. in Oliver C. Dawson Stadium.

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