Black History Month: An Interview with James W. Lillard, FNAI


As we celebrate Black History Month, read as James W. Lillard, FNAI and Senior Associate Dean for Research, Innovation, & Commercialization at NAI Member Institution Morehouse School of Medicine, discusses why he became an inventor, the importance of diversity in innovation, and suggestions of how mentorship could foster diverse perspectives.

Q: What inspired you to become an inventor?
A: Reading about inventors like Thomas Edison and especially George Washington Carver. I was amazed to learn that Dr. Carver discovered and implemented over 100 users of the peanut that are still in use today.

Q: What is the importance of having diverse and unique perspectives in the innovation and invention ecosystem?
A: Plato may have first said “necessity is the mother of invention”. These needs as well as the diversity of thoughts and perspectives are the secret of America’s innovation and invention ecosystem. It has been a goal for me to increase opportunities for future inventors with diverse backgrounds to participate in this ecosystem and benefit from these opportunities.

Q: What suggestions do you have on how mentorship could help support attracting, engaging, and retaining diverse perspectives and individuals in the innovation and invention ecosystem?
A: Opportunity is the new classroom. So, I think we should all do more to increase the diversity of the STEM workforce through offering more science & innovation education programs as well as opportunities like internships and co-ops in industry, national laboratories (e.g., Frederick National Labs for Cancer Research), and universities. Advocating for these opportunities is an important first step, which has to be followed up with us all providing formal and informal mentorship to these diverse “innovators” about the importance of their participation and how to make a difference.

Read about Dr. Lillard’s work here: