Sydney Mudd (ISyE '24) was working her way through her junior and senior years at Parkview High in Lilburn, Ga., when she started to feel that pressure. It’s the same pressure most high schoolers begin to feel when the first of their friends start to make college selections, setting out plans for their majors and, it felt like, their entire lives.
“You have to choose a school,” she said, thinking back to those formative final years before moving out of her parents’ house and into the great unknown of higher education. “I’m 16 or 17 years old, and I’m supposed to be choosing what I’m going to do for the rest of my life.”
Even though she wasn’t ready to lay out a mental itinerary for the next 50 years of her life – and, really, who is? – Mudd did something so simple, and yet so difficult for so many.
She asked questions.
She spoke to teachers and advisors, older students, anyone with an ear and experience who could offer some direction on how they got into their degrees or professions. When she came to Georgia Tech in 2020 in the midst of a global pandemic that made her initial college experience far different than most she had talked to, she still didn’t know exactly what she wanted. But she also knew that part wasn’t as important just yet.
“I realized everyone’s journey is different, so I just have to focus on mine,” she said.
Flash forward a little over a year and a half. Mudd has transitioned from a Mechanical Engineering major to Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISyE), gone through an internship with UPS, started a club for minority students within Industrial Engineering called Black IEs at Tech, served as the undergraduate representative for ISyE’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion committee, served as the advisor for Emerging Leaders, a first-year leadership organization, connected with peers through the National Society of Black Engineers, and, most recently, been named a Stamps President’s Scholar.
A Stamps Scholar
Damon Williams, a senior lecturer and the director of the Center for Academics, Success, and Equity (CASE) in the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISyE), received an email asking if he had anyone to recommend for the walk-on process for the Stamps President’s Scholar program at Georgia Tech.
Established in 1981, the program recognizes the most promising first-year students based upon excellence and potential in scholarship, leadership, progress, and service.
Williams already had a name in mind.
“After working with her for a few months, I was already beyond impressed with Sydney’s leadership skills and passion for everything she does,” Williams said. “When I was asked for nominees for the scholarship, she was truly the first student I thought of.”
Mudd met with Chen Zhou, an associate professor and associate chair for undergraduate studies in ISyE to discuss the nomination. Despite some nerves as she entered Zhou’s office, where she expected a formal interview, she was quickly treated to an easygoing conversation.
“He genuinely just wanted to get to know me,” Mudd said. “We just talked about what I was interested in, things I was passionate about and where I hoped to make a positive impact, specifically with regard to hunger and homelessness.
“After that conversation, he gave me the nomination.”
More rounds of interviews followed, including with E. Roe Stamps himself.
“I almost had a breakdown from nerves,” Mudd said, calmly and with a smile now, long after the decision had been made. “But it was so smooth.”
At the end of the final interview, she was told she got the scholarship, which – in addition to the mentorship, recognition, and academic opportunities – offers a full-ride scholarship.
“It’s amazing,” she said. “I started crying.”
Entrepreneurship and Giving Back
Although the Stamps scholarship may arguably be the biggest boost she gets for her college career, her pursuits don’t end at that sizable success. Mudd has always been a bit of a hustler – she bought and sold high-end sneakers while she was in high school – and she’s expanded her business acumen during in time in college.
To help fund her education, she and her cousin, who she called a “business partner” in high school, got involved with Turo. Turo is a peer-to-peer carsharing company that allows private car owners to rent out vehicles via an online marketplace.
“The sneakers weren’t really consistent money or anything,” she said, “so we had to find something that’s more stable.”
Now, she managers a handful of cars and continues to learn how to deal with customers, maintain cars, and more.
“This is helping me lay my foundation,” she said. “That’s how I see my time here. I’m building a foundation so I have options when I graduate.”
She doesn’t see herself going straight into business for herself. That may come later. There may be a stop in industry along the way. One thing she knows is that she wants to give back as much as she can.
“One day, I hope to start my own foundation,” said Mudd, who, along with her mom, aunt, and some friends, has helped pack meals for those in need since she was in middle school. “I was given opportunities others weren’t, and I feel a moral obligation to help those who don’t have the same privileges I do.”
Not bad for someone who wasn’t sure what she wanted to do just a few short years ago.