Points on a Map
By Jeremy Craig
G. Davon Kennedy
On the wall of G. Davon Kennedy’s office at the Parker H. Petit Science Center is a map of the world filled with stickpins; each one representing the cities and countries his former students and fellow faculty members hail from.
The map, which has collected nearly 700 pins for more than seven years, is brightly colored with tacks from Melbourne, Australia to far away parts of Russia. And on his office shelves and walls are figurines, clocks, necklaces, masks and other items from students from all over the world.
Every pin, every figurine, tells a different story about a young student who has come to Kennedy, associate professor of chemistry, for advice not just about academics or career paths, but also about making decisions in their lives. “These artifacts have been a blessing – the reward for taking the time to spend with students from every background you can imagine,” Kennedy said. “I like to say that I have traveled vicariously through my students.”
Since he first came to GSU in the early 1990s, he has made it a mission to help shepherd students through life both inside and outside the lab.
After all, it was help from others that got him to his position as a professor at GSU in the first place.
Kennedy grew up on a small tobacco farm just outside Florence, S.C., before moving to Baltimore to live with his aunt.
“I began to see the world, and my potential as a student,” he said. “By my junior year of high school, I was on my own. I either needed to go back to South Carolina, or explore the world on my own.”
Helping Kennedy on his own journey, he found a high school counselor, Jack Lachman, who opened his home to Kennedy, and became Kennedy’s legal guardian. Lachman helped push Kennedy to go to college. And in return, all Lachman asked for was for Kennedy to help others, just as someone helped him achieve more.
“Jack laughed and said, ‘I don’t need any money,’” Kennedy said. “’You will encounter those who could use your help. Trust your heart, and help others, no matter what color they are or where they come from.’
“I would never have received my Ph.D. without help from other people,” he said. “I hope Jack can look down at all of these mementoes from my students on my shelves and my walls, and see how I’ve tried to honor his memory.”
Georgia State is the perfect place for professors to help students, Kennedy said.
“When people talk about destiny, and when I look at my career, I knew my destiny was defined to be right here,” Kennedy said. “I can’t think of another institution that has afforded me the opportunity to express myself and help young people.”
He still keeps in touch with his former students. Kimberly Agnew-Heard, who went on to earn her Ph.D. from Georgia State, started out as an undergraduate in the early 1990s under Kennedy’s wings as a scholar in the McNair program – a program to encourage more minorities to go into science.
“He pushed me into it,” said Agnew-Heard, who has worked as a scientist for Boston Scientific. “I knew nothing about it, but he told me that it was a good program, and I pushed forward.”
Kennedy and Agnew-Heard still communicate to this day.
“We constantly continue to interact,” Kennedy said. “Part of the reward with working with young people is to see them through their journey, and watch them grow. It’s very meaningful.”