Professional alumni return to share insights
The idea of paying the good things that happen in life forward is an idea with a lot of buzz in the media and the world at large. For a group of St. Andrews alumni, the idea of paying it forward brought them back to campus to share insights and advice with current students in their area of interest.
Gardy Wilson ’71, Hayley White ’08 and Matt Clark ’91 shared their thoughts with students during spring semester in a variety of forums.
Wilson is the president of Industrial Minerals, Inc. out of South Carolina. He spoke to members of the Management in the 21st Century class (See Sidebar).
“I was hesitant to come back because I want to be a resource, not a relic, and share something of value,” he said. “Management isn’t for everyone. I’m not the most popular guy on the block when I have to bring news. I have to deal with it all. For those who want to be in management, those I have been most impressed with in my life have been those who worked from the bottom up.”
It is because of this observation and a belief in the importance of communication that Wilson has an open door policy.
“I don’t discriminate against anyone or any idea,” he said. “I go to everyone with a given task and ask for his or her ideas. The man or woman on the job knows more about it than anyone. I’ve had a lot of success with this as the ideas help the whole project.
“With equipment, you can call a mechanic to fix the part and it runs,” he continued. “With personnel, you have to work with each as a unique case. People don’t always have a network to get help. It fosters loyalty and there is nothing like a qualified, loyal employee.”
While Wilson is closing in on the end of his career, Hayley White is in the process of completing her education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to earn a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling and psychology. Although it was not directly a part of her program of study, White was given the opportunity by her advisor to provide research assistance on a clinical psychology project for heart and lung transplants.
“The last thing I wanted to do was go to more school, let alone focused on research,” White said. “It turns out that I enjoy the research. To get a PsyD, with a clinical focus, is very competitive. Going into the Ph.D. program, which is less competitive, includes 80 percent research.”
She shared that she was able to get this opportunity in part because her advisor had been impressed with her preparation. It was part of the advice she passed along to the students in the Psychology Club.
“Be prepared for your interview,” she advised. “Be well versed in the interviewer’s research. Suck up to professors. It is crucial to have good recommendation letters to set you apart. Know your interests. Have a good foundation so that you know where you like.”
White also shared that her St. Andrews education was a key part of her opportunities in graduate studies.
“The most surprising thing in graduate school has been how prepared I’ve been,” she said. “There are 12 people in my class. Graduate school is tough and we are all writing papers and doing PowerPoint presentations. It’s amazing the number of students who haven’t ever given a presentation. They were one of 300 people in the upper level classes.”
Like White, Matt Clark feels that the St. Andrews experience provided him with benefits throughout his career that would not have existed otherwise.
“I was an average student here at St. Andrews,” Clark said to a group of science students. “I participated in a couple of drama productions, went to class, and had a good time. To steal a Bushoven phrase, I was at college, not in college. What I didn’t realize was that I was learning to synthesize information from disparate sources and think my way to a solution, rather than just run some calculations. At SA, I was, at best, an indifferent author. Ron Bayes can attest to that. I found that the liberal arts writing that I did for SAGE and my other courses gave me an almost unique skill among engineers: the ability to write well, and quickly, although SA didn’t try to teach me to write quickly, that was more due to me waiting until the last minute to do my assignments. The ability to write concisely quickly has been of incalculable advantage in my career.”
In addition to these practical skills for an engineer with major companies over the course of his career, the global perspective he gained from St. Andrews also provided for opportunities both directly and indirectly.
“I was interviewing for a co-op position while I was at Georgia Tech (completing his undergraduate work through the 3-2 engineering program) in the fall of 1992, and I was sitting next to, I thought, a graduate student reading a newspaper,” he recalled. “I don’t remember the exact story on the front page, but it had something to do with the ‘discussions’ between India and Pakistan. The graduate student and I spent some time discussing the religious differences that fueled the conflict for a short time, and then I went into an interview.
“Later that day, I found myself in the same waiting room for another interview, and when my turn arrived, found my name called by the ‘graduate student’ that I had been conversing with early in the morning. We spent most of the next 30 minutes talking about SA, and how I learned as much about India and Pakistan. How can you explain SAGE to someone in 15 minutes, when they have no experience with an engineer who has a liberal arts background? As you might imagine, I received an offer for that co-op job.”
Clark has also had the opportunity for leadership roles through that same kind of awareness.
“As a team-lead for Intel, I was responsible for a product that was jointly developed by four groups in different parts of the world: North Carolina, California, Germany and India,” he said. “I received the promotion to team-lead for the project, because when the kick off meeting occurred, I was the only senior engineer who was able to communicate with all four of the groups. The job should have gone to someone more experienced in that technical area, but the position was given to me, based on my demonstration of my understanding of eastern and European cultures and mores, and how to incentivize them to accomplish goals.”
Now working in Raleigh, Clark is serving on the alumni council as another way to give back to the College he credits for much of the success in his life.
“I’ve told the story about my first mentor and how I complained to him that I used less than 30 percent of my GT skills,” Clark said. “In his response, John was correct in one way, there are very few weeks that I use over 30 percent of my technical skills that I learned through my various iterations at Georgia Tech. However, he was completely wrong in another, because the skills that I learned at St. Andrews, such as critical thinking and ethics, the ability to persuasively communicate, and the ability to synthesize disparate pieces of information into a considered whole; those are the skills that I use every day, in my professional and private life, and they are most important to me, because they define who I am. I am a graduate of St. Andrews Presbyterian College.”
Gardy Wilson was one of several business professionals to speak to Management in the 21st Century. Here are a pair of the student reactions to his presentation.
"Gardy made many great points that were relevant to the class and the situations we will find ourselves in after this year is over. Many of us are graduating and we are looking for hints and tips for obtaining our first job. He told us that we only get one chance to make a first impression, and making a positive one is critical. Most people are judged by others the instant they meet and whatever impressions are mad will remain throughout their relationship. You can not redo a first meeting and when trying to get that first job the impression you make will determine your potential opportunity with the company. Gardy taught us that to get opportunities to become successful it is all about how you present yourself and the impression you make on others." - Sarah Crouse
"He was very old-school in his management style preferring personal interaction over digital correspondence. He talked about always exceeding the customer’s expectations as one of the most important parts of managing. He also said that time management was imperative if you intend on being a successful manager. You have to figure out what’s important and how to spend the time you have. Secondly he said “you only have one chance to make a good first impression.” As many times as we have heard this in our lives, it is still important to remember. Lastly, and possibly the best piece of advice given was when he said you have to be responsible for your actions, if you mess up you must call the customer and tell them immediately. He values strong customer relationships and the importance of acting ethically at all times." - Rob Lawson
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