James Hill, an associate professor of computer and information science at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis, is one of the youngest African Americans to become a tenured professor in computer science at a research university in the United States.
He gained the distinction last August, when his tenure appointment in the IUPUI School of Science took effect. At the time he was 33 years and five months old. While it’s difficult to prove the achievement categorically because of differences in complex university systems, all indications are that Hill is among the two or three youngest to reach that mark.
At the time he completed his doctoral studies at Vanderbilt in 2009, Hill discovered he was the ninth-youngest African American in the U.S. to earn a doctoral degree in computer science. “Once I found that out,” Hill says, “I realized I could become the youngest to become tenured. My nature is that if I do it, I do it to the best of my ability. I thought, ‘I can get it; let’s make it happen.’”
That competitive spirit helped Hill succeed as an All-American athlete in high school, winning numerous national honors in track and field and the long jump.
“My experience at Vanderbilt is one that I would not have predicted,” says Hill. “I expected simply to attend graduate school and get the degrees I was pursuing. But the many opportunities I was exposed to by my adviser, [Aniruddha] Gokhale, and co-adviser, [Douglas] Schmidt, who both supported me 100 percent, were unimaginable. I would even speak with [Emeritus Professor Lawrence] Dowdy at least once a month, or whenever we saw each other in passing, about life. It helped me understand my purpose.
“These much-treasured experiences helped me gain the confidence I needed to continue into academia and build upon the foundation I had upon entering graduate school, reaching the level of achievement I have today. I continually practice what I’ve learned and instill these values in my students because I know it works.”
—IUPUI AND PHILLIP B. TUCKER