"Alabama Scholarships for Service, Not Just Grades"

Steven Tyree (University of Alabama)

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Smith Scholarship Foundation supports a diverse array of students who, naturally, pursue wide-ranging degrees. We do our best to point them toward degrees and careers that accent their passions and unique life-experiences. This week we feature Steven Tyree, a 2010 Smith Scholarship recipient who has chosen to major in Mechanical Engineering.

We asked Steven to narrate us through his journey toward a self-fulfilling degree and soon-to-be career

SSF:  Could you tell us about your background, the forces and interests that shaped you?

I always wanted to be in the military when I was a kid. I found the airplanes, helicopters, battle ships, guns, helmets, and uniforms all fascinating. I think it might have been the order and predictability—things I didn’t always find in my family life. I also loved sports. I played football and baseball beginning in the third grade. When I was thirteen I was playing back yard softball and my baby brother (who is now an E2 in the Navy) batted a ball that I had pitched and hit me in the temple. The impact caused the blood clot. I had to go through two brain surgeries to have it removed. I knew I had lost the chance to be in the military, but I responded by channeling my love for discipline and teamwork into sports and academics.2010 Smith Scholars2

SSF: How did you spend your time during high school?

I attended Berry High School in Fayette County Alabama. I was class president from 7th through 11th grade. I was SGA President and FFA President my senior year. I was a three-year starter on both the football team and the baseball team. I played defensive back and returned kicks for the football team and played center field in baseball. I was also on the Future Farmers of America (FFA) Small Engines Team and we won three state championship banners. However, I think football had the biggest impact on my attitude toward life. Football teaches you that when you fall you have to get back up, you have to push yourself to be the very best you can be, and it doesn’t reward selfishness.  When I received the Smith Scholarship I was just very relieved. It meant I could keep my focus where it needed to be, and that I would have support that extended into my personal life and my wellbeing.

Just a little Guy talkSSF: It sounds like you were juggling so many activities already; was there anything challenging about college?

Well, learning the material was not a problem in itself, but there were other challenges. The first difficulty I faced in college was adjusting to the new atmosphere and culture around me. I was used to a high school of only 280 students, and that was the entire student body ranging from 7th to 12th grade. My first college class at University of South Alabama had 300 students in it. This is where the mentoring from Smith Foundation kept me grounded. They gave me advice about what to expect in the classroom and even tips on where to sit during classroom lectures. I was also assigned my own personal mentor that I could call at any time, day or night, and just talk. I mean, I can call Urist right now and just talk about baseball.  My other challenge was zeroing in on the best degree for me. I started out as a pre-med major, but halfway through my first semester I decided that it was not for me. That was when Urist asked me if I had ever considered engineering. He didn’t know it, but he had read my mind and we discussed it—the next day I changed my major to Mechanical Engineering and it has been the best decision I have ever made.

SSF: Obviously you’re a practical thinker. How are you getting ready for life after college?2010-12-31 23.00.00-90

In the fall of 2012, I joined a CO-OP program. I interviewed with five potential employers on a Wednesday in October and by Friday of the same week I had three offers. I accepted the job at Hunt Refining Company in Tuscaloosa—an oil refinery, which led me to transfer to the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.  I started the first CO-OP rotation in January of 2013.  I work with five project engineers. Each engineer has their own unit and would assign me projects to assist them with, so at times I could be working on five or six different projects at once. I would take pictures of the area in which the project was taking place, draw up piping ISOs either by hand or on PowerPoint, look up piping specs, write management of change reports, walk the project out with different contractors to bid on the job, and modify piping and instrumentation diagrams.

photo 1_FotorI finished my second CO-OP rotation in December of 2013 and then my supervisor offered me a position as an Inspection Intern so that I could work and go to school at the same time. I started my new role as the Inspections Intern on December 30, 2013. I have one more CO-OP rotation to finish this summer. Whether or not I am invited to stay on at Hunt, I have learned enough first-hand to know that I will stayin the petroleum refining industry.

SSF: Do you have any advice for other scholars for adjusting to college and making the most of it?

photo 2_FotorAs for adjusting to college, I’d recommend they lean on the Smith Scholarship family during tough times.  If you don’t stay emotionally balanced, doing good work is much harder. It’s important to confide in people who really want you to succeed.

And for making the most of it: Your degree only gets you in the door, and the rest is up to you. Most good companies are prepared to train you in the specifics of their business—a degree really just tells them that you have the ability to learn. So, I think the CO-OP and Internship is the most beneficial activity any student can partake in.

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