The stars aligned in 2022, leading Wendell Gray to Texas A&M School of Dentistry.
He left his longtime career in IT consulting, with many of those years at PricewaterhouseCoopers, to be the IT site manager for the dental school – a full-circle opportunity, connecting his family’s background in education and the military with his personal academic journey and interests. He celebrated his first anniversary with the school Jan. 10.
“This job was the perfect storm,” he said. “It was local, it was with a university that I care about and it’s in the field that I’m in. It checked all the boxes.”
Gray describes his job at the dental school as a “potpourri of things.”
“I support the IT infrastructure so that we can give the faculty, staff and students a stable environment and good technology,” he said. “That technology allows the faculty to teach classes that the students need, it helps the staff support the faculty and it allows the students to learn in an environment where technology is a partner.”
In his first year, Gray and his staff have worked to upgrade equipment across campus.
“When you have equipment that is old and end-of-life, you’re going to get weird results and weird experiences,” he said. “This makes the IT department’s job more difficult because it’s like plugging holes in the dam.
“The whack-a-mole kind of goes down as the system gets more stable,” he added with a laugh.
To start, they identified classrooms that experience heavy use and updated equipment in those spaces first. Gray’s goal is for the technology to be a reliable tool.
“It sounds weird coming from an IT guy, but technology is never the answer; technology is just the tool,” he said. “People are always the answer. We have to give folks tools that actually work.”
Gray encourages faculty, staff and students to alert his department when there are problems.
“I know some people don’t like to be a bother, but it really isn’t,” he said. “If we don’t know where the problem is, then we can’t fix it.”
Although Gray just joined the dental school staff a year ago, his ties to Texas A&M run deep. He graduated from the university in 1989 with a Bachelor of Business Administration in Management Information Systems.
He originally planned to attend the University of Texas at Arlington, but on the day he was scheduled to enroll, he was notified he’d received the President’s Achievement Award from Texas A&M University.
“Of course, any time college is going to be paid for, you go that route,” he said. “It was the fulcrum that changed my life.”
During his time at A&M, Gray was chair of the Black Awareness Committee, one of several groups tasked with bringing special programs to campus. Gray said A&M was one of only three universities with student-led programming at the time.
“In that role, we brought the Boys Choir of Harlem; Pearl Primus Dance Company; the play, ‘The African American Museum;’ and the Ebony Fashion Fair to campus,” he said. “These were things that had never come to College Station. It was very cool, and I’m proud that happened on my watch while I was the BAC chair.”
Shortly after Gray graduated, then-university president Dr. William H. Mobley created the President’s Advisory Committee on Black Issues (PACBI). Gray and his wife, LaTrina (Class of ’91), were among the 11 original members.
“Dr. Mobley was way ahead of his time to have done that in the early ’90s,” Gray said. “He recognized the fact that we were losing good Black talent to other institutions and, frankly, out of state. We had students who could get into A&M but were choosing not to go.”
Gray said PACBI members strategized with the university on how to best reach and recruit from Black communities, which had been long underserved. In 1999, PACBI evolved into the Black Former Student Network (BFSN), one of the first organizations to be officially recognized as an arm of the Association of Former Students.
Today Gray is chief financial officer of BFSN and instrumental in planning the Aggie Impact Gala, designed to recognize the accomplishments of Black former students and raise scholarship money for prospective students. The third annual event was held in October 2022.
“We started the gala to further our goal of improved recruiting efforts at A&M,” he said. “We’ve now endowed a scholarship and provided four, full-ride scholarships – all four years completely paid.
“We’ve raised nearly $700,000 to send kids to A&M, and it’s very cool.”
Gray said the gala has also been a wonderful way to recognize the work of former students in the world at-large.
“It’s a reaffirming way to demonstrate that A&M produces great former students who go on to do great things,” he said. “It’s healthy for former students and current students and faculty to see there’s progress being made, but it’s sometimes not always visible. Part of the gala is meant to bring up that visibility.”
Gray has been personally serving the university and its current and former students for more than 30 years. Now his job at the dental school provides another platform to support Aggies and higher education opportunities for all.
“A&M provides this great opportunity, and we need to share it,” he said. “We need to share what this university does for folks … it’s a value to become an Aggie. What you’re taught here, the traditions, the culture and the expectations are all things that you can carry with you once you leave the campus. Those things are timeless and can be incorporated into any profession in life, and I think that needs to be shared with as many people as possible.”
Gray acknowledges he could have continued working in the private sector, but he was influenced and inspired by his family, many of whom dedicated their lives to various forms of service through education and the military.
“I come from a family of educators and was raised on ‘you gotta serve,’” he said. “This was the perfect time for me to be here and stay here.”
Here’s more about Gray in his own words:
Title: IT Site Manager
How long have you worked at Texas A&M School of Dentistry?
I have been here one year as of Jan. 10, 2023.
What’s your favorite part of your job?
Helping people is my favorite thing. To do this well you have to have respect and empathy … and some emotional intelligence to go along with it. The best part is making sure that we’re providing service in a way that allows people to do their gig without a bunch of muss and fuss. We have to make the system sustainable and stable.
Why have you continued to volunteer for PACBI, and now BFSN, for all these years?
For me, knowing that in 1963 the first African Americans were allowed to come to Texas A&M. I owe it to the folks who were pioneers to stay here and continue the legacy. I look at life as a relay, and each generation hands the baton to the next generation. It’s up to us to be a strong leg to make sure we’re able to actually hand that baton off in a way that doesn’t slow down the next generation.
Tell me about your background.
I was born in Dallas, but we lived overseas for about 10 years. I turned 6 years old in London, on our way to Germany. We traveled for my dad’s work with Texas Instruments and lived in Germany for almost four years. We lived in a little farming village, and my sister was born there. She made history because she was the first Black kid born there. She made the front page of the newspaper, has dual citizenship, the whole bit. We made wonderful, lifelong friends. We returned to Dallas for a year and then went to Singapore for five years, so we had a Western European experience and a Southeast Asian experience. We returned to the United States my ninth-grade year, and I attended Lake Highlands High School, just down the street.
What do you like to do in your free time?
Video games are what inspired me to learn to code, and I still enjoy playing them. Destiny 2 is a favorite of mine. I also like Overwatch, Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto. Destiny 2 is the one I enjoy the most because I’m able to play it with my son. He’s at the University of Houston, so it’s neat we can put the headsets on and play even when he’s away. I’m also a huge movie buff. I love any genre, but especially sci-fi.