Alumni Profile: Alumnus credits U.S. Navy service for his college success

Friday, February 22, 2019
Written by: Laura D. Schumacher

Curtis Duren graduated in December 2018 with his Associate in Arts (A.A.) degree. After a 38-year career in the telecommunications industry, he’s looking toward the future of solar technology and sustainability. While continuing to take classes at Seminole State for further certifications, Duren is now excited to be giving back as the newest addition to the Seminole State Alumni Leadership Team. In honor of Black History Month, Duren shares the story of how his culture impacted who he has become and how Seminole State has made a difference in his life.

What was your most recent job?

My most recent job was as an engineer with Verizon Wireless. I worked in the fiber optic group in testing, integrating point to point fiber optics in the “back hall” as we called it.  

Where I really got my introduction in telephones was the U.S. Navy. I knew I loved electronics, I didn’t know why, but I was just kind of good at it. I did more just playing tricks on my friends; electrocuting them or zapping them with DC voltage. That’s how I learned. That and World Book Encyclopedias.

When did you attend Seminole State?

"Where I really got my introduction in telephones was the U.S. Navy. I knew I loved electronics, I didn’t know why, but I was just kind of good at it."

Curtis Duren

I have attended Seminole State, I would say, maybe over the last 12 years. I would take a class here and there. A lot of times I would get transferred out of town on business. We didn’t have virtual classes back then, and being the responsible dad, I had to take care of home first. So, I kept taking classes and getting out, but I got to these last two years. I sat down and talked to a counselor and she let me know that if I stuck with it, I could at least have an A.A. degree. I wanted to be able to graduate. I stuck with it.  

What are your future plans?

You know, after 38 years in telecommunications, I don’t have a set plan, but I do have ideas. When I have a plan, I’m acting on it. When I have an idea, I’m working on it. My idea right now is I find myself helping someone else more and more. I’m now registered as a substitute teacher, I don’t know if I’ll go full time. I’d like to at least do something where I can help someone else succeed.  

Was there a class at Seminole State that had the greatest impact on you?

I would have to say taking that solar class with David Click. My wife worked closely with Jason Gaschel, the original project manager, and they introduced me to the Sustainable Engineering Program. That kind of pushed me that, “OK, Curtis, this isn’t going to be forever.” I already had ideas in my head, you know as I told you before about me and electronics and hurting people, I still have ideas, so that class prompted me to get a package from U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to do something. I can’t say what it is because I don’t want you taking my idea. But taking that solar class, it did a lot for me.  

How do you think being a dad, and your interactions with leading your children through their lives, has influenced you?

I would have to say that influence came prior to me becoming a dad. I had to be a son first. My father was the first black Navy recruiter in the state of Ohio. He died two months before his retirement. He came out of Pittsburgh, dropped out of high school, and worked at a bakery at 16. He knew that working at a factory in Pittsburgh was not for him, so he joined the Navy. At that time in the Navy, blacks were only allowed to be mess cranks or stewards. Stewards cleaned officer’s quarters and mess cranks served food. They were never allowed to prepare food. 

He made the best of it. He got stationed in Trinidad, met this beautiful island girl who now enters the story as my mother, and he ended up going to submarine school when they opened the doors to letting blacks do other things. He never looked back, he never questioned it. I would go places with my dad, and I saw how they treated him. I had to look people in the eye. I had to give a firm handshake. I had to be accountable when I was wrong. How did that help me as a dad? I did the same things. And I told my children, if you don’t like it? Blame your grandfather, blame your grandmother. 

Being a dad has kind of prepped me for other kids who don’t have it. My children had me and their mom there on a daily basis. I know what it’s like to wake up and not have my dad there. And there’s a whole lot of other kids who don’t have dad here.

Would you say that your culture or family history had an impact on you, where you’re at and where you’re going?

It had everything. My father grew up in the slums of Pittsburgh in the '40s and '50s. My American grandmother would wash and iron clothes for the rich people after my grandfather died. But education was everything. My aunt was a nurse and my uncle was an electrician. 

My other side of my family is all from the island of Trinidad. I was born in Trinidad, and you don’t go to school and start playing with blocks. They start you learning. You go in uniform. They had a hickory stick and, if you got in trouble, you put your hand out and got a lashing across your hand. On my island side, my grandparents owned property and businesses, and that entrepreneurial spirit was there. Even to this day, my mother just turned 89 and she and my sister have their own business. My wife’s dad has his own business, he’s in his mid-80s, and he’s the energizer bunny. Just having that around you – it’s like at the gym. It’s a lot easier to go to the gym and work out if you have a lot of people around you pushing you. I push my children to get their degrees. I had to at least get my degree before my youngest because I would have never heard the end of it.

What would you say to someone that’s looking to finish or to go back and get an education?

Don’t hesitate. If you’re thinking about it, just go ahead and act on it. You think long, you’ll think wrong. Pull the trigger. If you’ve got a job, a full-time job or a part-time job, and you really want to come back and get your degree then take one class. Just work your way back into it. You know, find your niche. But don’t stop. Keep the ball rolling so that moss doesn’t grow on it. 

What do you hope to bring to the Alumni Leadership Team?

I hope I can bring a different flavor. I didn’t come that traditional route. Corporate America has opened up my eyes about a lot, from the management roll to the technical role. My thing is that for this generation behind us, we need to lead them in the right direction.  

About the Seminole State College Alumni Association

Seminole State College Alumni Association: The Seminole State College Alumni Association provides benefits and services for alumni as they continue their lifelong connection with Seminole State College of Florida, providing opportunities for them to network with one another, interact with the student body and support the College. To learn more, visit the Alumni Association website.