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Cedric Carter Jr.: Durham Public Schools Teachers Saw His Potential

When Cedric Carter Jr. moved from Valdosta, Georgia to Durham, North Carolina to live with his father in 2004, he was only 14 years old but apparently wise beyond his years. On every previous visit with his father in North Carolina, he took notice of African American males—“people who looked like me”—doing well and leading productive lives. When he did return to his home community in Georgia, “I knew something was wrong,” he said. 


He wanted to be seen, heard, and appreciated for dedication, so this eldest of three decided he needed to move to Durham with his father in order to achieve his goals. His mother didn’t want him to go, but she understood and supported his wishes. Mr. Carter explains that he thought opportunities were not as plentiful in South Georgia because teachers weren’t resourceful enough to advance his ambitions.


“My ultimate goal was to be an engineer, which I am today. However, I didn't know what type of engineering discipline I wanted to pursue,” he said. 


His father was and still is a Duke Energy lineman and manager, so his interest was fueled by his father’s influence. Also a scholar-athlete, Mr. Carter was scouted by various Division I universities for wrestling, where he won a state title in middle school. Additionally, he was also a state champion football player.


“As you can imagine, I was constantly bombarded by high school coaches to play sports when I transferred to Durham Public Schools,” he said. Carter decided to join the wrestling team at Riverside High in the 189-pound weight class. 


However, he wanted something else.


“I really wanted to focus on my academics because I knew that my studies were going to set my future,” said Carter.


The 2008 Riverside High School graduate said teachers who took an interest in his success were the highlights of his academic career. Now a Principal Cybersecurity Engineer with The MITRE Corporation in Washington, D.C. Mr. Carter sees his work with the non-profit organization managing Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDCs) as an essential service to National Security and Federal Government Interests. 


Carter said when President Biden’s Administration published the 2023 National Cyber Strategy with one of the White House’s four priorities being to “defend our Nation's critical infrastructure”, it was meaningful to his career. 


“For this to be one of our nation’s top priorities aligns with my goals. Ultimately defending our country, allies and partner’s critical infrastructure from national and non-national threats is a need.” said Carter, whose work is to understand threats, the psychology behind them, and the motives needed to pre-empt them.


He gives credit to his mother for supporting his wishes, and to his father for doing what was necessary to expand his horizons. His father worked extra overtime hours to support him fully, and there was a trade-off that paid for his son’s success. He had to stay at Riverside High School sometimes until as late as 7 p.m. before his father could pick him up, so he took advantage of that time to study. Carter says it strengthened his self-discipline and motivation to succeed academically. He was also able to go to teachers and ask for help while they were grading papers. To this day, he appreciates the time his teachers took to answer his questions and acknowledge his sense of curiosity in sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics. He even helped teachers grade papers. This has sparked one of his goals to teach after he retires professionally as an engineer.


“They took time to invest in me. They saw someone who was curious. They saw me, an African-American male wanting to excel,” he said.


Carter enrolled in a university program, Higher Learning Institute, at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical (NC A&T) State University, during his junior and senior summers in high school, taking Pre-Calculus and English his junior year, and Calculus and another grammar course his senior year. He earned high school and AP college credits simultaneously. “I was perfecting my craft at an early age,” he said.


He names DPS teachers like Tim Velegol, Adam Davidson, and Candi Clarke, as “intelligent” influences on his life and career. 


“My issue was focus. They assisted in developing my ability to focus and took time to help me understand the materials taught and how to apply it. There’s a difference between remembering and understanding how things worked. Once you understand technical subjects, you can apply it in various places in need of solutions,” he said.


Carter adds that teachers like Velegol took time to help him understand engineering, specifically mechanical and electrical engineering. Davidson helped him with his civil engineering and computer-aided design studies; David Rogers was his graphics design mentor; and Clark was Carter’s Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) principal investigator. Clark also served as his algebra and geometry teacher. He received paid internships at NC A&T State University, Shell Oil Company, Cisco Systems, and a Department of Energy’s National Lab - Sandia National Labs, which introduced him to work supporting national security goals and objectives.


He also notes that another of his teachers and mentor, Dr. Gary Dozier, a Dean, traveled to Durham to meet him to recruit him to his computer science program at NC A&T State University, which at the time was an evolving field in 2008.


“I would never have gotten there without my teachers who took time to invest in my career,” said  Carter, who now has the opportunity to apply all of his expertise in critical infrastructure cybersecurity for the national interest. Carter says he studies cybersecurity across all of the 16 cybersecurity sectors defined by the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). He also publishes papers and materials on the subject for defensive purposes.


Certified in more than 12 areas, he’s a testament to job dedication and how hard work pays off. All of his certifications (details here) were endorsed and funded by the organizations for which he has worked. “I definitely took advantage of opportunities.”


Now, as a seasoned professional, Mr. Carter has learned lessons he’s willing to share with others who are striving for success.


He pays tribute to his parents first, paying attention and understanding the important role your teachers can play in your life as a close second, and learning how to collaborate and communicate as a third. 


“Honor your mother and father. Respect them.That’s first. Second, focus. Know that the time you spend in high school is an investment in your future. Take advantage of it because you don’t get those years back. Take time to honor your teachers because at the end of the day, they’re taking time to invest in you,” he said.


As the leader of a team of 10-plus engineers, all of whom have different talents and personalities, Carter notes the importance of strategic communication.


“I’m really big on communication and collaboration. It takes time to inform my team that communication is important. Not everyone can communicate effectively, so I have to figure out how to communicate in a meaningful manner that is representative to different personalities and behaviors. When it works, it works! It’s frustrating when folks don’t coordinate or collaborate. It does a disservice to taxpayer dollars.”