With a 3.97 grade point average in electrical engineering and a lengthy record of distinguished involvement on campus, Arkansas Tech University senior Lynsie Whitlow might appear to be someone for whom everything comes easy.
She says nothing could be further from the truth.
"I struggled in school," said Whitlow. "Middle school and high school were not easy for me. I had to learn how to study at a very young age compared to most college students. Everyone else was freaking out because they’d never had to work hard for a grade before. I was just sitting back and knew I had this because I’d been working hard since I was in middle school. I had trouble with my literacy and communication, and even math, which is surprising now.
"The most key thing to my success here at Tech is my family," continued Whitlow, daughter of Cindy and Ricky Whitlow. "They are the best cheerleaders ever. They told me to do my best, and that they are proud of me as long as I did my best because that’s what they expect of themselves and of me. They’re always there. I give my success to them because I wouldn’t be here without them."
Whitlow received the 2014 Margaret Young Award as the most outstanding senior female student at Arkansas Tech during the Presidential Leadership Recognition reception at Lake Point Conference Center on Tuesday night.
She will be recognized as the Young Award winner during spring commencement ceremonies at 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 10, at Tucker Coliseum.
Like many Arkansas Tech students, Whitlow’s first exposure to campus came through a summer camp during her youth.
"I came to campus because of band camp, and I just knew it was home," said Whitlow. "From the moment I started going to school here, it’s been where I’ve felt like I belonged. I feel like I have a family here. It just always felt right."
Whitlow knew from seventh grade on that Arkansas Tech was her target, and once she made it to Russellville she set about tackling the challenging discipline of electrical engineering.
"I’m very competitive," said Whitlow. "I came into college and saw all these guys, and I told myself I was going to beat every last one of them. It doesn’t matter. I’ll beat the girls too. It’s never been a problem for me. I grew up playing on a basketball team with all boys. I didn’t really play. I wasn’t good, but they let me travel around with them. It’s something I’m used to, and I love a challenge."
Whitlow credits three women from three different aspects of campus —- Dr. Patricia Buford, associate dean of engineering and associate professor of electrical engineering; Alison Parks Taylor, coordinator of young alumni and student philanthropy; and Ann Webb, financial adviser in the Roy and Christine Sturgis Academic Advising Center —- for aiding her development.
"Dr. Buford is how everything started," said Whitlow. "I graded papers for her and she mentored me through everything when I first started at Tech. Because of my relationship with her, I was nominated for Presidential Leadership Cabinet. And because of that, I met Alison. Between those two women, and also Mrs. Webb, I had three women always making sure I was involved on campus. I owe a lot to them. I still talk to each of them daily. I have been influenced by some of the most wonderful women on campus, and they mean the world to me."
Whitlow was elected the first president of the Arkansas Tech Student Alumni Association when the organization, which has grown to become the largest on campus, was founded during the 2012-13 academic year.
"It’s very special," said Whitlow. "Tech has given me a lot, and I was able to give back before I left. It just makes me happy. This is my home, and I want to leave something for future students. I want them to find a way to get involved because that’s how I survived. Not only my grades, but my social life, would have died if I hadn’t been involved on this campus."
Included in Whitlow’s legacy as Student Alumni Association president is the development of the Tech Traditions book, which will be distributed to freshmen for the first time in fall 2014. The "T book" will include guidelines for how students can qualify for the Tradition Keepers designation at commencement.
Whitlow will be among the inaugural class of Tradition Keepers at spring 2014 commencement.
"Now that we have developed the Traditions book hopefully it will take off, more students will get involved and go to games," said Whitlow. "The Student Alumni Association is a great way for students to get involved. I want everyone else to enjoy Tech as much as I have."
Whitlow never thought her enjoyment of Arkansas Tech would include involvement in a sorority, but when Alpha Sigma Tau returned to campus after a 30-year hiatus she became a member for her senior year.
"The thing that changed my mind was meeting people in sororities and fraternities," said Whitlow. "They told me about the sisterhood and brotherhood, and I believed it because I saw it. Alpha Sigma Tau has been amazing for me. I’ve made so many friends as a senior that I didn’t think was even possible. It’s been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. You don’t realize how close you are going to get to other people."
Whitlow said that winning the Young Award is a result of her efforts to give back to a place that has given her so much.
"I tried hard, and I did my best," said Whitlow. "It means I did exactly what my parents told me to do when I came to college. It was a complete and utter surprise. The women in my class are amazing. Claire Hodgson is a really good example. She is one of my sorority sisters, and I love her so much. She is so wonderful. Never in my wildest dreams would I have expected this award. It is an honor, and it makes me very happy that I found my home."
Whitlow wants to use her electrical engineering degree to pursue a career in the power industry. She is interested in living in Tennessee, where she lived for a summer while serving an internship at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
"My goal in life was to get a degree," said Whitlow, who will receive her bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering on May 10. "It’s something my parents were never able to get, so it’s something I wanted to do to prove to them that their parenting really worked. It’s for them. A lot of the reasons I came to Tech were for them. I want to get a master of business administration degree, and hopefully gain a management position one day over engineers. That would allow me to use the communication skills I have gained over the years. I want to give back and show girls and boys there’s no stopping you if you put your mind and heart to it. That’s my ultimate goal."