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New Mexico State University

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NMSU student one of eight nationwide selected for social responsibility program

As a sophomore at Mayfield High School in Las Cruces, Tamra Overcast laughed when her drafting teacher suggested she join the school's robotics team.

NMSU engineering student Tamra Overcast is one of eight students selected nationwide for the Sullivan Fellowship Program. (NMSU photo by Ben La Marca)

"I told her that robotics just wasn't my thing, but I would try it out, no promises," said Overcast, now an industrial engineering student at New Mexico State University who has proven that she's no quitter.

Overcast became the president of the Mayfield Project NEO robotics team when she was a senior and today continues her involvement with the group as a mentor. She not only found the experience enjoyable, she discovered a love of engineering as a result and, true to form, has pursued her interest with fervor.

The energetic NMSU freshman is one of eight students nationwide selected recently to participate in the Sullivan Fellowship Program, sponsored by General Motors and the United Negro College Fund, designed to foster social responsibility in the workplace. She will receive a $5,000 scholarship upon the successful completion of a GM summer internship and a written and oral presentation on the Sullivan Principles.

The GM Sullivan Fellowship Program is named for the late Rev. Leon Sullivan, who was the first African American man to serve on the GM board of directors. In 1977, Sullivan developed the Sullivan Principles as a code of conduct for companies operating in South Africa. These principles were expanded as a means to improve human rights, social justice and economic fairness in countries throughout the world. Today, the Global Sullivan Principles of Social Responsibility are embraced by hundreds of companies.

The award also includes a $5,000 grant to NMSU to be applied toward the development of a Sullivan Principles Program on campus. Edward Pines, head of the industrial engineering department, and Bobbie Green, director of the MBA program in the College of Business, will jointly develop a class for MBA and engineering students in corporate social accountability.

This is the third year in a row that Pines and Green have been successful with a proposal for NMSU to participate in the Sullivan Fellowship Program. NMSU is joined by Duke University, Michigan State University, Michigan Technological University, Prairie View A&M University, Tennessee State University, the University of Michigan and Virginia Polytechnic Institute in participating in the competitive program this year.

Following a tour of the Greek Islands with friends this summer, Overcast will report to the General Motors facility in Defiance, Ohio, home to the company's largest foundry, where she will learn more about industrial engineering.

Through Project NEO she learned about the manufacturing process. Through her high school job as a manager at a local pizza joint, she learned about management. "I really loved doing both," she said. "Industrial engineering is the combination of manufacturing and management; it allows me to experience the best of both worlds."

Overcast has become an active member of the student chapter of the Institute of Industrial Engineers, already serving as historian and secretary. In the fall she will be president of the organization that she enjoys for the opportunity to network.

"That's how I became familiar with Dr. Pines and I believe that is one reason I was selected for this fellowship," she said.

"Tamra is a great student," said Pines, who recently traveled to Michigan with Overcast to attend a Sullivan Principles workshop. "The GM people were so impressed with her - they couldn't believe that she was a freshman."

She is employed at the College of Engineering's Manufacturing Technology and Engineering Center, an organization that helps New Mexico businesses with manufacturing and technical assistance.

"Right now I'm doing a lot of learning. It's the kind of place where you never know what you'll be working on," she said.

She also has found another love: dance. She took a ballroom dance class last fall, is currently taking swing, and says the waltz is her favorite.