Astronaut kicks off College of Business speaker series

Dr. Bernard Harris Jr., a former astronaut and first black person to walk in space, addressed Western Carolina University students Thursday, Aug. 21, as the inaugural speaker of the Insights and Reflections Series, hosted by WCU’s College of Business.

Dr. Bernard Harris Jr., a former astronaut and first black person to walk in space, addressed Western Carolina University students Thursday, Aug. 21, as the inaugural speaker of the Insights and Reflections Series, hosted by WCU’s College of Business.

Former astronaut Dr. Bernard Harris Jr. told students in Western Carolina University’s College of Business on Aug. 21 that he believes entrepreneurs in the private sector will propel the space industry to achieve its fullest potential.

“I thought by now we’d have habitats on the moon and we’d being going back and forth to Mars,” said Harris, 52, who spoke to a capacity crowd of students and faculty in WCU’s A.K. Hinds University Center theater. Private-sector entrepreneurs working to develop space vehicles will eventually achieve success because “they see that gap” that the federal space program has yet to bridge, he said.

Harris predicted that the cost of private space travel, which can cost millions of dollars, will decline in the future. “Over time, all of that’s going to come down, just like other transportation forms have,” he said.

As a young child, Harris developed a habit of watching the stars and planets emerge at dusk. “That’s how my dream of walking in space began,” he said.

Harris, of Texas, spent a decade with NASA and participated in space missions in 1993 and 1995, on the latter becoming the first black man to walk in space. He holds a medical degree from the Texas Tech University School of Medicine, and while with NASA he conducted research on space adaptation and developed medical devices to extend astronaut stays in space.

After his career with NASA, Harris earned a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Houston. Presently, he is chief executive officer and managing partner of Vesalius Ventures Inc., a venture capital firm with a focus on medical informatics and technology. He also is president of the Harris Foundation, a nonprofit organization he founded in 1998 to develop mathematics and science education programs and crime prevention programs for U.S. children.

Western’s College of Business invited Harris to speak as part of its new Insights and Reflections Series. Ronald Johnson, dean of the College of Business, said he selected Harris as the series’ inaugural speaker because of the outstanding example Harris sets for students. “He really represents what I believe a business-ready individual is about,” Johnson said. “He recognizes that he is part of a larger community. The College of Business wants to train people who are successful in life, not just business.”

Harris outlined seven strategies for success for the business students, advising them to imagine themselves achieving their dreams; refuse to accept failure; surround themselves with inspiration; challenge themselves; choose success; take risks; and listen to their inner voice.

“You are infinite beings with infinite possibilities,” he said.

For more information about WCU’s College of Business, call (828) 227-7401.