Tamara Chilton (left) is the first recipient of the Jeffrey L. Meekins Award. Meekins (right) established the scholarship to encourage good students to acquire strong people skills. Chilton, a Virginia Beach native, said her most challenging experience at Virginia Tech came right away – in Engineering Fundamentals. “I had to learn to work in groups without taking over,” she said. “I had this habit of taking charge and doing it all myself.” Now she participates in Tech’s Alpha Rho chapter of the Phi Sigma Pi honorary society and other organizations without seizing all the hard work. Chilton is also a William Webber Scholarship recipient. She has a special interest in communications and has been doing co-op work at Naval Research Labs in Washington, D.C.
Although Jeffrey Meekins (B.S. EE ’88, M.S. ME ’90) developed a computerized model that became the basis for the next generation of scanning telescopes under NASA’s CERES program—as a graduate student even—he has left those highly honed technical skills behind in his present job.
He moved from the engineering ranks at Celgard to become supply chain manager for the flat-sheet-membrane manufacturing company. He is now in charge of customer service, purchasing, production planning, warehousing, and inventory personnel.
“I use my analytical skills, my logical, linear thinking developed as an engineer in this job, and sometimes it’s important to think out of the box, nonlinearly,” Meekins said. “But it’s in the people skills where I’ve really had to grow. I took this job to develop those skills. While I was a hard-working student, I didn’t really take advantage of the social situation at Tech.”
When Meekins created an ECE scholarship this year, he decided to fund an African-American student who is a good student and well rounded, to encourage those people skills. The first J.L. Meekins Scholarship recipient, poised, extroverted Tamara Chilton, is the kind of person he had in mind.
“My advice to students today is to work on leadership skills, learn to create unselfish relationships, build character, and take an interest in people—this is what will be important later,” he said. “Study hard. Develop a plan to get you where you want to go. Do what gives you energy. Life is too short to do anything else.” But the main advice he had for Tamara Chilton, the first scholarship recipient, was to “make this happen for someone else.”
Meekins says he is passing on the sort of help he received as an undergraduate student. One day early in Meekins’ Tech career, the engineering dean stopped him in the hall to say that Meekins had been awarded a scholarship for which he had never applied. He was completely surprised and grateful.
Meekins is still working hard, still learning and growing. Helping to start up new polyester packaging resin plants in Mexico, Canada, and Germany has been a mountaintop experience for him. Now he thinks everyone should have the perspective-expanding experience of traveling abroad.
But at 40, he is doing some soul-searching, rethinking the idea of success that does not bring others along. “I think it’s a matter of trading success for significance,” he says. “We have to realize we are only stewards of the knowledge and resources we’ve been fortunate or blessed to attain. We have to put it to good use for others. We have to acknowledge our spiritual side or we’ll never be completely satisfied.”
And one facet of that plan is making Tamara Chilton’s Tech education a little easier to finance.-by Su Clauson-Wicker