Life’s obstacles no match for Germanna engineer
Davyda Hammond’s mother died when she was just 5.
Her father was absent for much of her childhood.
And she says the grandmother who raised her was verbally and physically abusive.
Despite all that, she went on to receive a master’s degree in mechanical engineering and a doctorate in environmental health engineering. Now an engineering professor at Germanna Community College, Hammond says it’s fitting that a high school math teacher helped set her path.
“I’m definitely observant of my students,” says Hammond, 38, a married mother of two who came to Germanna in 2011. “Had my math teacher not been observant I probably wouldn’t have the opportunity I have today.”
Hammond says she lived with various relatives in Detroit after her mom died of pneumonia.
She was never a great student until a seemingly insignificant moment when she was 12. A teacher asked a multiplication question and, to her surprise, she raised her hand and answered it correctly.
“The light bulb just went off,” recalled Hammond, who was attending a Catholic school in Detroit at the time.
Shortly thereafter, she moved in with her maternal grandmother in Birmingham, Ala. The reason for the move was that Hammond’s father, who was a physician at the time, had gotten into some legal trouble.
She didn’t learn about her dad’s situation until she was 18.
“I was always asking my grandmother about my father,” Hammond said. “She would just change the subject or say, ‘He doesn’t care about you.’”
She says her grandmother also hit her—even giving her black eyes. It was her grandmother’s first time raising a child, as her own children never lived with her.
“She blamed my father for my mother’s death, and I think I just reminded her of him,” Hammond said.
But she says one thing made her grandmother happy: receiving compliments about Hammond’s success in school.
That’s why she thinks her grandmother started leaving her alone while she studied, which “just made me study even more.”
Among her supporters was a high school math teacher who Hammond says knew something was wrong in her home life.
She recalls a conversation in which she told the teacher that she wanted to be a math instructor like her.
“You’re so smart, you should be an engineer,” she says the teacher responded.
Hammond ended up enrolling at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point after participating in JROTC in high school.
During her congressional nomination interview, she says the congressman asked her about her thoughts on gays serving in the military.
Hammond, who is African–American, said she told him that anybody who is qualified for a job should be able to do it.
“Based upon my background, I can’t discriminate against anyone else,” she recalls saying.
“Now, thinking back on that as an adult, I was in deep south Alabama,” Hammond said with a laugh.
Even so, she received the congressional nomination.
But West Point, she recalls, was a “whole ’nother level of military.” She realized the rigid leadership style wasn’t for her and transferred to Auburn University as a sophomore.
She declared mechanical engineering as her major, following the advice of her high school math teacher.
And just eight years after receiving her bachelor’s degree, she earned a doctorate in environmental health engineering from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
She worked as a physical scientist for the Environmental Protection Agency before coming to Germanna.
Hammond’s background has helped her at the community college, where she says the students are “very bright” but may not realize their potential.
“I definitely try to bring that experience to the classroom,” she said. “I want to understand the individual, not just the grades you’re getting on an assessment.”
She mentioned a student who had potential but didn’t speak up in class. So she encouraged her to join the Applied Engineering Club, which Hammond advises.
The student ended up participating in an American Society of Mechanical Engineers competition earlier this year against schools such as the U.S. Naval Academy and the University of Virginia. Germanna placed second.
“This person who’s really quiet just kind of exploded,” Hammond said.
That student is Sarah Kaufman, who credited Hammond for growing the engineering program. In fact, it was Hammond who helped develop an electrical engineering track that was introduced this year.
“She is constantly pushing us, which I think in time we will all look back and thank her for,” Kaufman said in an email.
Hammond says she tries to inspire students, especially those who lack confidence.
“I know what it feels like to be underestimated.”
ENGINEERING OPEN HOUSE
Germanna Community College will host an open house Saturday featuring engineering and science demonstrations from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Fredericksburg-area campus’ V. Earl Dickinson Building.
Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402