School recognizes students in athletics, Army and Navy ROTC
When a former trial lawyer with the United State Department of Justice and the first African American varsity athlete in the SEC, and the president and CEO of an American chain of over 600 restaurants offer you some advice, listen.
Two nationally known Vanderbilt engineering alumni recently spoke to about 50 students who find time to play SEC varsity sports or participate in Army and Navy ROTC programs while navigating challenging engineering curriculums.
For a third year, Dean Philippe Fauchet honored engineering student-athletes and Army and Navy ROTC students (see full list below) with a special dinner at the University Club and to hear from successful alumni who came before them.
“One thing playing basketball did for me was widen my circle of friends,” said Perry Wallace (BE’70), a tenured professor at American University’s Washington College of Law. “Sports forces engagements and involvements you might not experience otherwise.”
Wallace, an electrical engineering and engineering math major, was the first African American varsity athlete to play under an athletic scholarship in the Southeastern Conference, ending his tenure as forward and captain of the Vanderbilt varsity basketball team and second-team All SEC.
Sandra B. Cochran (BE’80), also known as Sandy, has been the chief executive officer of Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Inc. since September 2011 and its president since November 2010. She joined the company in 2009. She spent 17 years with Books-A-Million, rising to president and then CEO in 2004.
In Army ROTC at Vanderbilt, Cochran was commissioned at graduation, qualified as a paratrooper, and ultimately served as a Captain in the Ninth Infantry Division. Later, she earned a MBA from Pacific Lutheran University.
Cochran, whose father and five siblings were at one time lieutenants or captains, said “learn to tie your own shoes.”
“Learn the fundamentals of your business. First, learn operations. Next, be a student of leadership and learn about your own leadership [style]. And, how comfortable are you with discomfort? Keep moving forward,” said Cochran, a chemical engineering major.
Military leadership engenders a responsibility “to take care of your people” Cochran said, and that’s important in other careers, too. “Care about them, and sometimes it’s important to understand what they’re not saying. They don’t want sympathy, they want you to solve problems.”
Wallace, who joined the event by Skype from his Silver Spring, Maryland home, told students to develop strong partnerships and relationships in school and thereafter. He offered three pieces of advice.
“Meet with faculty, with coaches, with like-minded students. Don’t be afraid to initiate relationships with people. Solutions to problems could be a phone call away,” said Wallace, who also serves as the director of the JD/MBA Dual Degree Program at American University’s law school. He earned his law degree from Columbia University and earlier in his career he was a senior trial attorney at the United States Department of Justice. He is a member of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Advisory Council for Environmental Policy and Technology.
Second, Wallace said, “along the way [of your career] evaluate your progress. Rethink your path.”
Wallace will be inducted into the School of Engineering Academy of Distinguished Alumni in April. Vanderbilt University announced in October 2015 that it will establish the Perry E. Wallace Jr. Scholarship to honor and recognize the achievements of Wallace. The scholarship will be awarded to an undergraduate in the School of Engineering. Cochran received a Distinguished Alumnus Award and was inducted into the School of Engineering Academy of Distinguished Alumni in 2008.
Wallace’s third piece of advice: Dream. “Say to yourself, I’m going to imagine myself as the person I’m going to be in the future.”
Julia Collins, junior engineering science major and Navy ROTC member, said engineering and ROTC were both very demanding on her time. “But, I was drawn to the options and the opportunities.”
Brenda Ellis, (615) 343-6314
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