Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Silver Linings: Since she was a child, when GCC engineering Prof. Davyda Hammond has seen a need, she's found a way to fix things

Her mother passed away when she was 5.

She says her father couldn’t take care of her, so at age 12, she moved to Birmingham, Ala. to live with her grandmother, Sylvia Branch.

She wasn’t happy about the move, but what seemed to be a storm cloud had a silver lining.

 “It was my teachers in Alabama who really turned me on to math,” she says.

Germanna engineering Prof. Davyda Hammond and students
on green roof of GCC's Science & Engineering Building
“I wasn’t a good student in Detroit,” Germanna Community College Engineering Prof. Davyda Hammond says. “The primary reason was my home life. I lived with my aunt on the weekends and my father on weekdays. I was moving from one bed to another.”

 Her life had taken a turn for the better thanks to her grandmother. So it rankled her when, as a child, she would see shady mechanics take advantage of her grandmother, charging her a lot and refusing to explain what was wrong. “My grandmother always got the short end of the stick,” she says.

She was 12 and her teachers in Alabama were telling her she should become a math teacher. She knew that math was important to engineering. And she says with a smile that she thought to herself back then, “Well, engineers, they learn about cars.”

By the time she was in college, she was doing her own 20-point checks on her car and her grandmother’s.  When she’d take either car to a dealership, she’d confidently and firmly say: “This is what’s wrong. Don’t tell me anything else is wrong with it.”

 As a child, she had seen a need and addressed that need. That’s what engineers do.

 So it should come as no surprise that she’s done the same as a faculty member at Germanna.

  Until now, Germanna’s Associate of Science degree in Engineering program focused on mechanical engineering and engineering science.

  Dr. Hammond said that one of the primary concerned voiced during last year’s Germanna Center for Workforce Advisory Board meeting, was a skills gap that existed when it came to filling electrical engineering jobs.

  Earlier this year she did some research and found that more job openings were listed for electrical engineers across Virginia than for mechanical engineers.

  Seeing a need, she pushed to add a concentration in electrical engineering at Germanna. And she succeeded.

  Dr. Hammond explains that because Germanna has guaranteed admission articulation agreements with both UVa. and Virginia Tech, “If you get at least a ‘B’ in all your engineering and science and math classes at GCC and an overall GPA of 3.2, you’re guaranteed admission into the schools of engineering at  UVa. and Virginia Tech. They get so many applications at Tech that automatically knowing you’re getting in is a real advantage.”

 Things are coming together nicely for the GCC engineering program, which has a beautiful, cutting edge new Science & Engineering Building at Germanna’s Fredericksburg Area Campus in Spotsylvania.
Germanna's new Science & Engineering Building and Information Commons

She earned her bachelor’s degree at Auburn University, her master’s degree at the University of California-Irvine and her Ph.D. at the University of Alabama.

 Her grandmother passed away in 2009, but she lived to see Davyda get her PhD. “For a long time, she didn’t know what I was doing. I was the grandchild who knew how to fix things. A broken radio? ‘Fix this for me.’ The VCR? ‘Fix this for me.’ I was the fix-it child.”

 In a manner of speaking, she has her own “fix it children” now.

Dr. Hammond is the faculty advisor for GCC's Applied Engineering Club. In the spring of 2013, the club built a robot "with the Fukushuma power plant meltdown disaster in mind.” It has the ability to navigate into areas too dangerous and restricting to send personnel.  It uses two onboard cameras that allow both a forward-tilting view and a 310-degree pan and tilt view to “see.” It's able to manipulate instruments from 10 inches away with its probe, drop remote sensors and retrieve sensors. It’s compact, weighing about nine pounds with no dimension greater than 14.25 inches. Club members use an Xbox controller to operate it via a Wi-Fi connection with an indoor range of 230 feet and virtually unlimited range when connected over the Internet. It uses a laser guidance system and has a top speed of 1.56 miles per hour.

Germanna Applied Engineering Club's D.R.O.I.D. robot.

The club and D.R.O.I.D. made a strong showing at this Spring’s ASME Student Professional Development Conference at the University of Virginia, finishing second in student design for D.R.O.I.D., second in Web page design by Tristan Jones, second in Poster Presentation by Andrew Hallet and fourth for an oral presentation by Brian Keefer.

 A Germanna “MeCANical” engineering team led by  Dr. Hammond won the Engineering Ingenuity award during a recent contest sponsored by Stafford County Schools and 99.3 The Vibe. Ten teams collected thousands of cans of food for the Fredericksburg Food Bank, and then built structures at Spotsylvania Towne Center. The Germanna Engineering students came up with an American flag design. Now all the cans go to feed area families in need.
 "Silver Linings" design won an award and helped the hungry.

When the group had to submit a name for their structure, it didn’t know what it was going to build. So Prof. Hammond jotted down “Silver Linings.”   She says that popped into her head because being sent to live with her grandmother led to her becoming a PhD teaching engineering at Germanna and because of the silver colored trim of the cans of food donated for the project.

  Prof. Hammond is justifiably proud of her students.  

 “Engineering is a very difficult degree,” she says. “And if you’re not optimistic and lack confidence in yourself, it’s hard to deal with the stress.”

   Add to that, Prof. Hammond says, the fact that most Germanna engineering students have jobs while trying to master a difficult program, and it’s satisfying to see them succeed.” They’re very serious about their studies. They’re coming into class after a full day of work. Some have retail jobs, but with the knowledge they possess, they’re very close to what you need for a professional job.

   “They’re highly motivated, but at the same time, they know how to have fun,” she says. “They don’t let the stress of the program cause them to give up. They’re very supportive of one another. Engineering is a competitive environment, but it’s not that way here. We want to see everyone do well and get good grades that will allow them to transfer and finish their bachelor’s degrees.”


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