Playing the part: Howard smiles through the pain of being an internationally famous actor. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Growing up, most boys dream of one day becoming a chemical engineer and enjoying the endless parade of fans, money, and women that comes with it. Terrence Howard wasn't so lucky. He had to settle for Oscar-nominated Hollywood actor instead. But don't feel too sorry for Howard because as he mentioned during a Feb. 26 appearance on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" he actually holds a Ph.D. in applied materials and chemical engineering from South Carolina State University!
Howard turned the lemons of being left out of "Iron Man 2" into the lemonade of earning a doctorate? It all sounds very impressive. The problem? It's a lie.
Howard was never enrolled as a doctoral student at SC State University because SC State University doesn't offer graduate degrees in applied materials or chemical engineering, as a visit to the school's website confirms. Howard did receive a doctor of humane letters from the school after speaking at its 2012 spring commencement, explains Antia Dawkins, SC State University public relations specialist, but "he didn't graduate from SC State University. He just received an honorary degree."
According to Dawkins, SC State University has "actually received quite a few inquiries pertaining to this information." One of those inquiries came from former University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, lecturer Marina Miletic. "This may seem like a trivial story, but I feel it's important to address this situation of a celebrity impersonating a Ph.D. and a chemical engineer," says Miletic, who is a Ph.D. and a chemical engineer who currently works as a freelance lecturer and consultant. "He is somewhat trivializing chemical engineering by claiming he earned this degree in between working on movies."
Miletic's suspicions were triggered when she heard Howard discuss his diamond-growing business venture with Kimmel, which can be seen in the video above. "Howard committed some serious technical gaffes by repeatedly claiming that diamonds will replace silicone in computer chips to better 'handle heat dispensation,' " she says. "In fact, he should have said silicon and heat dissipation."
Miletic went so far in her fact-checking that she actually contacted Brooklyn's Pratt Institute, where, according to information Howard shared in a 2007 interview, he attended undergraduate chemical engineering classes but did not graduate. Miletic's inquiry confirmed this fact, leading her to further question how Howard could have earned a Ph.D. without first receiving a bachelor's degree. "Clearly his statements were not completely lining up," she says.
Obviously, celebrities using late-night talk shows as a forum for promoting a vanity project is nothing new. But, with his latest claim, Howard may have just taken that tradition to a whole new level.
Jeff Huber is an associate editor at C&EN. He enjoys finding peculiar news stories that make him laugh and/or tilt his head in a thoughtful manner. This hobby has served him well as a contributor to the Newscripts blog.