REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. (June 18, 2016) -- Humble beginnings inspired a career and lifelong passion for Terrance West, the executive officer of the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center.
"I had to work hard to overcome some obstacles, but my childhood and my environment are what provided me the motivation to go to college," West said.
In 2009, he became the first black person to earn a doctorate in electrical engineering from Mississippi State University despite the fact only one other member of his family had gone to college.
A native of Meridian, Mississippi, West said watching shows like "MacGyver" and tearing up objects around his home spiked his interest in engineering. West began his pursuit of higher education as a recent high school graduate in the summer of 1998. While his peers took the summer off before college, he elected to attend Mississippi State University's Bagley College of Engineering Summer Bridge Program, which provided him vision for an electrical engineering path.
"The Summer Bridge Program was where I first thought of graduate school," West said. "It showed me how to get where I wanted to go. The program allows students to come for a four week period during the summer and take engineering classes to prepare them for their freshman year. Any students that have learning deficiencies or might come from school districts that have not properly prepared them for college, the summer program is a crash course on preparing and adjusting to college. We all know that high school and college are two different ball fields."
West received a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering degree in 2004 and continued his education, earning a master of science degree in 2006, culminating in his doctorate in 2009. During his matriculation through MSU, he discovered his passion for teaching as well as learning. West contributed to the science, technology, engineering and mathematics program, or STEM, and frequently volunteered as an instructor for the same Summer Bridge Program he had attended years prior.
Because of his excitement for engineering, West spoke on June 17 at the Summer Bridge Program to offer guidance and insight on strategies for successfully completing the engineering curriculum at MSU.
"As an undergrad student, I wish I had someone who went through the process to come back and say 'Terrance, these are the things you need to focus on, these are the things that are important.' I want to show the linkage between college and a career. One of the biggest things you want students to understand is you're not going through school. You are going through school for a purpose."
West's extensive education and career experience has led him to the executive officer position for AMRDEC. The XO role is a developmental, term position that allows individuals the chance to see the organization as a whole. Since beginning the position in May 2016, West has assisted with daily organizational management and activities that support long-term AMRDEC success.
"Terrance has a great work ethic," AMRDEC Director James Lackey said. "He has a passion for learning more in terms of understanding the larger picture of our RDEC business base."
Before his current assignment, West worked for the Systems Simulation and Development Directorate's Millimeter-wave Simulation System-2 hardware-in-the-loop laboratory, supporting the Patriot missile system. As the systems engineer analysis lead, he enjoyed seeing the direct impact of testing and evaluation on the organization's ultimate customer, the Soldier.
"I know when AMRDEC develops and sustains these missile platforms in theater we provide a service for our Warfighters," West said. "From laboratory tests to demo tests, our research is saving the lives of Soldiers overseas."
Today, West would be considered an expert in electrical engineering, but he insists that learning never ends. He plans to continue his passion for personal and professional development, while mentoring those who are willing to learn.
"My hope is to inspire students to pursue their dreams. I want to encourage them that you can succeed no matter the obstacles you face or the circumstances you come from."
The U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to ensure decisive overmatch for unified land operations to empower the Army, the joint warfighter and our nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command.