Dr. Sylvia Wilson Thomas

Dr. Sylvia Wilson Thomas, an Itta Bena native and an associate professor in electrical engineering at the University of South Florida in Tampa, will receive the Educational Leadership Award at the 2020 Black Engineer of the Year Awards on Saturday in Washington, D.C.

An Itta Bena native will be recognized this weekend for her role in promoting and broadening math and science participation to students.

Dr. Sylvia Wilson Thomas, an associate professor of electrical engineering at the University of South Florida in Tampa, will receive the Educational Leadership Award at the 2020 Black Engineer of the Year Awards (BEYA) in Washington, D.C., this Saturday.

“I am humbled and very excited to be receiving this award,” Thomas said. “As a college student, I admired many of the recipients who received the BEYA award. It’s like a dream come true.”

The daughter of the late Dr. Eddie Wilson, a former computer science professor at Mississippi Valley State University, and Verna Wilson, who has taught math at various schools in Leflore County, Thomas was exposed to  science, technology, engineering and math at a young age.

“My father actually encouraged me to pursue engineering,” she said.

“I spent a lot of time at Mississippi Valley, and going on that college campus inspired me to want to go to college and want to have a very successful career,” she said.

Thomas said her parents also inspired her to seek out everything the world has to offer.

She graduated from Leflore County High School in 1984 as the valedictorian. She attended Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, as a Patricia Robert Harris Fellow recipient, earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering and later earned a doctorate in electrical engineering at Howard University in Washington.

At USF, Thomas leads the Advanced Membrane and Materials Bio and Integration Research Laboratory, which investigates advanced materials that can be used for alternative energy sources and sustainable environments, among other uses.

Thomas has also been an adviser for various student engineering groups and has worked to promote STEM careers for a diverse student body.

Aside from the award she’s about to receive, which Thomas said has been her biggest achievement, she said she’s also proud to have spoke at the United Nations headquarters in New York City to discuss the promotion of STEM education to girls across the globe.

“In the U.S., we really need to take advantage of STEM education,” Thomas said.

She said it “allows for innovation and creativity to help solve world challenges,” such as the energy crisis, clean water issues and health and medical issues.

“I’m really proud of her,” said Thomas’ mother, who will be present during the ceremony.

She said her daughter’s accomplishments should serve as an inspiration to students in Leflore County. Thomas agrees.

Citing her own personal journey from a humble beginning, she said, “There’s a lot that the world has to offer you. You should seek out your passion and follow your dreams.”

“There are going to be ups and downs, but you have to continue to persist and endure, and you will achieve success,” Thomas said.

Contact Gerard Edic at 581-7239 or gedic@gwcommonwealth.com.

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