Faculty Focus: Sylvia Palm
From Robots to Real Disasters, Sylvia Palm Finds New Ways to Inspire
Sylvia Palm , Faculty
BAE Systems' Director of Business Process Improvement Sylvia Palm knows that helping students find passion in their school work takes a little innovation. As a professor in the School of Undergraduate Studies, Sylvia works hard at motivating both her UMUC students and area high school students to take a vested interest in their studies. She shows them the ins and outs of engineering and information assurance fields through hands-on experience and real-world examples.
One of Sylvia’s greatest passions is showing high school students the fun and exciting side of engineering as a judge for FIRST Robotics Competitions (FRC). Teams of students from around the globe compete to build 100- to 120-pound robots that can complete a certain task. She likes that the competition is referred to as “a varsity sport of the mind.”
“Teams of students use a set of tools to build a robot together in six weeks,” says Sylvia. “It’s all about the teamwork and partnerships. The best part is, the rules are a surprise—they change every year!”
The teams that demonstrate the best robot designs, team spirit, professionalism, and the ability to overcome obstacles win prizes. BAE is an event sponsor, giving a $10,000 donation that funds the teams’ robot-building tool kits. Judging the event is extremely gratifying for Sylvia, because she enjoys helping teens discover the world of engineering as they learn from the pros. They get to show off the results of their hard work and reap the rewards, which can encourage them to think of engineering as a possible career path.
Subject matter rooted in real life is much more enticing to her UMUC students, too. In Sylvia’s courses, IFSM 432 Disaster Recovery Planning, IFSM 438 Project Management, and IFSM 461 Systems Analysis and Design, she strives to ground the content in scenarios her students can identify with. Her aim is for them to be able to apply newfound knowledge to their current or future careers.
“My classes analyze real situations,” says Sylvia. “We look at Hurricane Katrina and examine the photos and studies about what happened. It’s the same with the September 11th response—we discuss what Verizon did and how communication was restored. Most of my students work full-time and take evening classes, so they want to hear real-life examples they can relate to.”
In 2005, Sylvia and several colleagues traveled to South Africa to assess the post-Apartheid job market and offer advice on education. After Apartheid, many adults were left without the level of education they needed to qualify for all the newly available jobs. After a university study was conducted, Sylvia and her team gave recommendations to educators and officials on how to best remedy the problem.
“During Apartheid, there were no jobs,” says Sylvia. “After it ended, there were many jobs, but so many people were uneducated and unqualified for them. We told educators and officials in South Africa about methods they could use to effectively and quickly bring these people into the fold.”
As Sylvia Palm continues to make an impact on her UMUC students and the young, future engineers of the world, she is also taking the next step in her own education. She is now writing the dissertation for her doctoral degree in business administration.
“I have just one more class left,” she says. “How do I juggle it all? I don’t know; it’s getting hairy!”