Clarendon native, NASA scientist, BBQ master inspires Morris College students

Howard Conyers gave keynote speech at honors convocation

By Kayla Robins
kayla@theitem.com
Posted 2/16/18

Not many people are actual rocket scientists. Not many people are nationally renowned barbecue masters. Howard Conyers is both.

A connection between the two may not be immediately clear, but Conyers, a Manning native who has been a NASA Stennis …

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Clarendon native, NASA scientist, BBQ master inspires Morris College students

Howard Conyers gave keynote speech at honors convocation

Howard Conyers speaks during Morris College's honors fall 2017 semester convocation on Thursday. Conyers is a NASA engineer and is known for his BBQ pit   master skills.
Howard Conyers speaks during Morris College's honors fall 2017 semester convocation on Thursday. Conyers is a NASA engineer and is known for his BBQ pit master skills.
MICAH GREEN / THE SUMTER ITEM
Posted

Not many people are actual rocket scientists. Not many people are nationally renowned barbecue masters. Howard Conyers is both.

A connection between the two may not be immediately clear, but Conyers, a Manning native who has been a NASA Stennis Space Center engineer for nine years, linked that job to his pit-mastery in traditional South Carolina whole hog barbecue in a keynote address on Thursday to Morris College honors students at their fall 2017 semester convocation.

"You never know where you'll find your passion," Conyers said.

The Paxville native and Manning High School graduate said food has served two benefits to his life and career. He asked the students to remember their heritage and their ancestors who grew the best rice in Africa before being sold into slavery.

Food, in that sense, can be a link to the past, but Conyers also said it can propel you onward.

As he became more and more well-known for his whole hog barbecue, he said, other people were forced to notice him.

"Food transcends race," he said. "Barbecue was therapeutic also for me for helping me deal with work and people who may not have believed an African American should be in those rooms."

Conyers, who cooked his first whole hog when he was 11 by following a recipe handed down through his family for 200 years, now lives in New Orleans and hosts a variety of culturally specific dinner delicacies from Creole, Gullah and Senegalese cuisines. He has been featured many times on TV and in publications, including on the Cooking Channel.

At Stennis - NASA's largest rocket engine test facility, located on the banks of the Pearl River at the Mississippi-Louisiana border - Conyers is the A1 Test Stand Mechanical Design Lead where the RS-25, or space shuttle main engine, is tested. In June 2016, serving as principal investigator and project manager for the High Dynamic Range Stereo-X project, he led the team in demonstrating technology capabilities in recording high-speed, high-dynamic range video during the Space Launch System Qualification Motor QM-2 Testing in Utah.

Also in 2016, he was one of 40 young leaders under the age of 40 recognized as a NextCity Vanguard. He serves on boards for the GrowDat Youth Farm and the Dillard University Ray Charles Program in African-American Material Culture.

He said on Thursday he - and, in turn, the students he addressed at Morris - as a black American has had to actively work to keep his name associated with his work and to get credit for his accomplishments. Sometimes, he said, others get the credit. But the key is to keep going.

"We are the best of the best and the strongest of the strong," he said.

He said education makes anything possible.

"Education helps open doors to elevate a conversation to give credit to what we fundamentally created," he said.

By becoming nationally known for his Palmetto State whole hog barbecue, by studying and working his way through North Carolina A&T State University for undergrad and Duke University for a master's and doctorate in mechanical engineering, by finding his place at NASA, he said he put himself in a position where people listen to him and that he feels a responsibility to use that platform and inspire a younger generation to do the same.

"All I liked was math and science," he said. "My family was classically trained as tradesmen or on the farm. Everyone has a gift.

"And, look, I'm only 20 years removed from the fields they work in."

Morris College Interim President Leroy Staggers said he wanted to bring Conyers to the school to inspire students and show them a role model.

"It's not just saying the words," Staggers said, "but being the example."