"My future did not initially look promising,” said 1979 Leesville High School graduate, Norman Fortenberry.
“Born two-and-a-half months premature in 1961, weighing only three pounds, four ounces at a time when the national survival rate for such infants was only 45 percent. And those who did survive could expect severe physical and mental disabilities.”
Fortunately for Fortenberry, he had two things working in his favor – his father was in the Army with access to excellent medical care. His mother had the opportunity to devote significant time and attention to his care and development. “My parents encouraged me to dream big and supported my aspirations," Fortenberry said.
Born in Yokosuka, Japan, Fortenberry lived in three countries during his youth – Japan, Germany, and five states in the United States, including Leesville.
With a long-standing interest in politics and government, one of Fortenberry’s favorite classes at Leesville High School was American Government taught by Billy Crawford.
“Under Crawford I went on to win first prize in that subject and overall at the State Literary Rally in LSU in Baton Rouge,” said Fortenberry.
With guidance by Curriculum Director Colonel Jim Kitts, Fortenberry applied to, and won the Louisiana competition for the US Senate Youth Program.
This took him to Washington, DC with 51 other students to learn about the federal government in a whirlwind week filled with talks by senators, congressman, supreme court justices and members of the President's cabinet.
After graduation, Fortenberry attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and majored in mechanical engineering.
He became more politically engaged at college with a focus on social and economic inequities on campus and in the broader community.
Under the guidance of his advisors, Fortenberry continued his studies at MIT, earning his master's and doctoral degrees in mechanical engineering.
Inspired by his research advisor, he pursued an academic career and became an assistant professor at the College of Engineering jointly administered by Florida A&M University and Florida State University.
It was as an assistant professor that his own lack of preparation for the role of instructor (versus researcher) became glaringly obvious. This inspired his shift to a focus on engineering education research.
He spent 11 years (1992-2002) at the National Science Foundation (NSF), starting as an associate program director and ending his federal career as director of NSF's Division of Undergraduate Education.
In the mid-1990s Fortenberry spent 18 months as executive director of the nonprofit National Consortium for Graduate Degrees for Minorities in Engineering and Science (GEM), seeing it as an opportunity to give back to an organization that had provided some support for his graduate study.
Before leaving for GEM he re-met his (now) wife and married her upon his return to NSF. They have one son who is now a freshman at Davidson College studying political science and economics.
After leaving NSF, Fortenberry joined the staff of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE). There, he founded and led a center devoted to translating engineering education research into improved practice in engineering classrooms.
Nine years after joining NAE, he was selected to serve as executive director of the American Society for Engineering Education.
Fortenberry believes no one succeeds on his/her own and that luck is when opportunity meets preparation, making it essential to be prepared. He says integrity is a non-negotiable essential trait and “people matter.”