Dr. Sylvia Wilson Thomas received the Educational Leadership Award at the BEYA Conference in February. As an associate professor at the University of South Florida, she is also an advocate for minorities in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).
Her efforts include serving as a speaker for a United Nations briefing on “Girls and Technology” in 2004, a member of the National Academy of Inventors, and a Florida Senate appointment as chair of the Florida Education Fund Board of Directors.
The presenter of the award at the 2020 BEYA Conference was the Career Communications Group (CCG) Alumni Committee chair and president, Dr. Gwendolyn Boyd, also a BEYA winner.
“As a doctoral student at Howard University, Dr. Sylvia Wilson Thomas longed to be on this stage,” said Boyd. “She currently leads the University of South Florida Advanced Materials Membrane Bio and Integration Research lab in nanofiber membranes for drug delivery, biosensing, alternative energy, and sustainable environmental systems. This STEM advocate continues to forge a path for future generations.”
Dr. Thomas has been co-director of two National Science Foundation (NSF) Research Experience for Undergraduate Program sites, and NSF Research Experience for Teachers programs. She is a member of the Black Girls Code Board of Directors. Plus, her community outreach includes efforts in Italy, Puerto Rico, Singapore, Portugal, South Korea, Mexico, and South Africa. She is also USF’s representative for the National GEM Consortium, which enables students to pursue graduate education in STEM.
“Small town Mississippi girl dreaming of big-time engineering,” Thomas said in her acceptance speech.
Inspired by her mother, a thirty-year educator, and her father, a computer science professor, who was killed during her college sophomore year, Thomas persevered against the odds.
“I stand before you having survived a tragedy; doubts as a female engineer, and second-guesses as a corporate engineer,” she said. “More importantly as a motivator of young STEM believers, who I encourage daily to think outside of the box. Leadership, at any level, is not about what you can take; it’s about what you can give! And I thank God for what I am able to give.”
In her nomination package, Lawrence Morehouse, president and CEO of Florida Education Fund, said that while Thomas’s life and career are heroic examples of someone who has risen through challenging circumstances, she has also worked to ensure that others enjoy equal opportunities.