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Celebration of Service

Turning weakness into strength and then into gifts

Anthony Hall excels as a volunteer and leading advocate for educational innovation

Looking back at his impact on business and education, Dr. Anthony Hall, an IBM senior technical staff member, realizes “I have reached higher than anyone, including myself, would have thought possible.”

Twenty-five years ago when Anthony was asked to volunteer and teach a course at North Carolina State University (NCSU) in Raleigh, North Carolina, USA, he had little idea it would lead to a full professorship, participation on numerous university boards, public recognition for outstanding service, podium appearances as a commencement speaker, and the development of resources and partnerships to build a $15 million dollar center for educational innovation.

Realized potential

Anthony’s pre-college years did not necessarily foretell that he would impact how future educators learn their craft. “I was learning disabled in math until the tenth grade and learning disabled in reading until my last year of high school,” says Anthony. He also had a slight hearing impairment for a while during grammar school, and still to this day has visual challenges. “I didn’t see and hear things the way others did; that could cause all sorts of academic problems.”

Thanks to the attention of a few teachers Anthony was able to turn his unique perspective into an advantage. “Some of my teachers were innovative in how they could tap into my capabilities, and channel me,” Anthony recalls. “When I got to college what was weakness had become strength, and then in graduate school those strengths turned into gifts. Now in business it’s been the ticket to vision and non-traditional thinking.”

Establishing new standards

Today Anthony is determined to use educational innovation to narrow the technology gap between, as his says, “people that know and people that do not.” In retrospect, without the dedication and care of his teachers, he could have ended up on the deficit side of the digital divide but instead has become a leader in improving the education system.

In 1996, as chair of NCSU’s College of Education advisory board (which is a volunteer post), Anthony was in position to help lead the way in that institution’s role in shaping innovative thinking in education.

“Fifteen years ago many of us, including the deans of education, felt like we needed a radical change in how we were going to prepare teachers, superintendents, and principals, mainly in the middle school years, and with an emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines,” Anthony says. “We wanted to prepare these educators for the future, so they could in turn lead the way in creating systems and students that were much more advanced, successful and globally competitive than what we’ve seen in the past.”

Anthony and the team raised $15 million to build the Bill and Ida Friday Institute for Educational Innovation. “It took a while to raise the money,” Anthony says with a hint in his voice of the perseverance it took. “It boiled down to right place, right time, right opportunity, and not giving up. When we cut the ribbon on opening day, every dime had come from dedicated corporations and individuals.”

Named after Bill Friday, an American educator who served as head of the University for North Carolina system for decades, and his wife Ida, the Institute’s mission is to advance education through innovation in teaching, learning, and leadership.

In 2009, Anthony was honored by NCSU with the Leadership Award for Outstanding Service and Advocacy to the College of Education. As the first recipient of the award, Bill Friday’s quote etched on the trophy seems particularly connected to Anthony’s volunteer service at the university: “We need to harness creativity and apply it immediately to improve education.”

The then dean of the College of Education congratulated Anthony by saying, his service “provides an opportunity to establish new standards to which others may aspire.”

“Do as much of that as you can”

Anthony’s volunteer service is a model for others, and he encourages those thinking about voluntary board assignments to get advice from people who have done it before. He speaks highly of the support he’s received from managers over the years. “I can’t think of a single manager or executive who said don’t do that. They’d say ‘do as much of that as you can and let me know how I can help.’”

Anthony has been invited to speak at two NCSU commencement ceremonies. When he said the following words in a 2009 graduation speech Anthony was speaking of education professionals, though he could have been referring to volunteers: “You already are, or soon will be, in an important role that can change the course of human history: the education of others.”

IBM is marking its centennial year with a worldwide celebration of volunteer service. Throughout 2011, IBM invites everyone to join our global community of employees, retirees, families and friends as we support the communities where we work, live and learn together.