Rock, Scholarship, Engineer
Ever wondered what it took to make an engineer? In the case of a University of Oklahoma freshman, you can mix in equal parts of the Kansas landscape, two encouraging high school employees, a hard-working mom and a good dose of scholarship assistance.
Marquez Byrd is in his first semester as a petroleum engineering major. The Union High School graduate from Tulsa has thought about an engineering degree since first discovering the rocks that covered his young world in Wichita, where he was born.
“I was always finding these different types of rocks,” Byrd recalls. “I’d go out and mess with them and look at the shapes and colors. It always fascinated me how rocks form in so many different ways. That geology side of it pushed me toward being a petroleum engineering major.”
The youngest of seven children, Byrd would be the first in his family to head to college. In addition to his fascination with rock formations, a few other factors would figure in Byrd landing at OU.
Most of his life he’s watched his mother, Shanita Washington, work long, tiring hours to support her children. Never, Byrd says, did she fail to provide.
“My mom has always made sure we had food on the table, clothes on our backs and a roof over our heads. She really struggled at times to make ends meet, but she’s such a strong woman. She could have easily given up and she never has.”
He also was on the receiving end of encouragement from Union counselor Sandi Franklin and attendance secretary Susan McCoy, both of whom ensured Byrd knew he could accomplish whatever dreams filled his head.
“They really believed in me,” Byrd says of Franklin and McCoy. “They helped me believe in myself and they really pushed me to do what I wanted to do. They encouraged me to believe in myself and my ability to go to college and earn a degree. That was huge.”
Byrd’s approach to his college experience engenders his mother’s spirit. In addition to a full academic load, he’s active in Pi Kappa Phi fraternity, as well as with the Union Programming Board, Class Council and the Multi-Cultural Engineering Program.
“I feel like getting involved in all those organizations has helped me meet new people and expand my horizons,” Byrd says. “It’s helped me become a better leader, working with organizations and the projects I work on. It’s been amazing.”
Byrd is quick to point out it’s the scholarship assistance he receives that has enabled him to tackle academics and a full schedule outside the classroom. His college costs are covered by scholarships from the Robert S. and Helen G. Trippet Foundation of Tulsa, and the OU Club of Tulsa.
“I’m used to working and handling academics at the same time,” Byrd points out. “But, I wouldn’t be able to do as much on campus if I was working. I wouldn’t be able to be as involved as I am. I really appreciate the opportunity to take part in these different organizations.”
Byrd also appreciates the generosity of scholarship supporters for another practical reason.
“I was looking at graduating with a lot of debt,” he says. “It means a lot to me that people have taken in interest in financing an education for those who can’t afford it on their own.
“The scholarships have meant a tremendous amount. They’re really financing my future.”
That future, Byrd hopes includes a stint overseas. Having not had the means to travel much outside of Oklahoma as a kid, Byrd has a strong interest in living and working in France. This summer he hopes to spend a semester in Paris as part of a study abroad program.
“I definitely think it would be a great opportunity to live overseas and work in the oil industry,” Byrd says hopefully. “It’s definitely one of my goals, at least for a year after I graduate, to have that experience.”
Byrd adds that among his other goals is to be on the other end of the scholarship continuum one day.
“I definitely hope to be able to give back,” he stresses. “When somebody asks me to fund their future, I plan to give back. I think it’s necessary for me to return the favor.”