Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Sylvia Clay – Engineering Instructor & Program Head

School of Math, Science, and Engineering

Where did you grow up and what was it like?
I grew up in northern Virginia with my mom and younger sister. We didn’t have much money and we moved around a lot, but we always made the best of any situation.  I was often put in charge of my sister at a very young age while my mom was working and I think that heavily influenced who I am today.    
What got you interested in Engineering?
Just like many of my students . . . the paycheck. I had not even heard of Engineering by the time I went to Virginia Tech; I was a pre-med chemistry major. I was set on being a pediatric endocrinologist, but after talking to a lot of doctors about their home-life through med school, I decided medicine wasn't for me. I wanted to start a family sooner rather than later so a friend recommended Chemical Engineering. I had all of the right classes and the paycheck was great after four years of schooling. I soon learned to love the design aspects of Engineering and enjoyed applying ALL of the math I had learned.    
What brought you to Reynolds and how long
have you been here?

In graduate school, I decided I wanted to work in Community College because I really enjoyed student-teaching and tutoring. I taught part-time as an adjunct instructor for a semester and started at Reynolds full-time a year later in January of 2015.
What is the best part of being an Engineering Instructor?
The best part is definitely that I get to know the students throughout their time at Reynolds. I get to help them get started at Reynolds, I get to teach them and see the “ah-ha!” moments, and I get to watch them move onto the next stage of their degree at a University. I underestimated how truly fulfilling this job could be.
Teaching the courses is fun. I get to help students make connections and to apply the content they learned in previous math and science courses to problems they will eventually encounter in their careers.  
What is your greatest challenge in your position?
The most challenging thing for me is not being able to fix everything for every student.
Tell us about Reynolds new MakerSpace you and Salah Garada started?
We started the MakerSpace to provide students with a place to tinker and create in a relaxed environment. It’s open to the entire Reynolds community so we can facilitate conversations and collaborations between people with similar interests who may have very different experiences and backgrounds. We are holding monthly workshops where people can be exposed to different skills, crafts or technologies. I am hoping to get more members of the Reynolds community to host workshops in the MakerSpace so we can expand the offerings and showcase our collective knowledge. The space also serves as a place for the Reynolds Robotics Club to meet and for students to do homework inbetween classes.   
What do you like to do when you aren’t doing engineering-related activities?
My three children keep me pretty busy. I have a seven, five and one year-old but, I love cooking. I experiment with many different Asian cuisines especially Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, etc. If I have “free” time outside of that, I like needle-crafts in general, but I’m currently in a quilting mood.
If you won $100 Million in the Mega Millions lottery what would you do with the money?
I would buy a few fun things (clothes, a Tesla, etc.), pay for my family’s continuing education, start a scholarship at Reynolds, and give a bunch to St. Jude Children’s Research hospital.