Workhorse Scholar Q & A: Sidney May

Erickson Merkel Foundation: Tell us a little bit about your family and friends growing up, and any positive effect that they had on your formative years.

Sidney May: My childhood was a very fun one! My dad utilized the help of some of his friends, who became “uncles” to me, to raise my sister. There was never a lack of adventure in my childhood. We always had toys of some sort- dirt bikes, four wheelers, race cars, dune buggies, go carts- you name it! My dad’s work ethic really influenced me and I’m sure that’s where I get it from! One Christmas, just before I turned 15, my dad bought me a motorcycle and a box of parts. Nine months later I was driving it on the road with him! My grandparents were also a big part of my childhood and my dad’s parents used to hire me for the summers, so I could save up for my first car- which was a 1980 El Camino. Of course, it was a project car and that built a strong work ethic even more because it cost a lot of time and money, but I love my car! My mom was a huge influence because she showed me that even when life doesn’t go as planned you can work hard and make the best of it. My step-mom was a huge influence on my personal life work ethic. She never failed to treat me like her own daughter and show me some of the things my dad never could. I learned to work hard, but always keep my family at the center of what I do. Her life teachings help me as I navigate being a step-mom to two wonderful boys! I know the way I was raised helped me be the caring, hardworking, motivated, and fun person I am today.

EMF: When you were going through elementary, middle or high school, did you have a clear idea on what you wanted to do when you ‘grew up’?

SM: I had a very clear idea of what I wanted to do when I ‘grew up’! But I was wrong! I thought I wanted to be an auto mechanic but after six months of working in a shop I learned that I loved cars and mechanics as a hobby and that I wanted to explore more of the auto industry. Since then, I’ve been with the same company and they’ve been very supportive in helping me work a flexible schedule around my classes while learning more and more every day! As I enter my senior year at my university (I’m graduating a year early) I realize that I have interests that expand beyond automotive and I’m exciting to see where those take me, but I know I’ll always have a home in the auto industry.

EMF: When was it that you realized that only you could be responsible for your future, and in what ways did you take control of your life after?

SM: I think I learned at a young age that I would be responsible for my future. I don’t know if it’s something my parents taught me or if it is something life taught me but I’m glad I learned it young. I got my first ‘real’ job at a grocery store when I was fourteen to pay for my car and I knew that only I could convince myself to work hard and do well in school. I took that responsibility and found I functioned very well under that type of pressure and I’ve been working and going to school since. I took control of my finances at fourteen and with pointers from my dad I learned the importance of saving, investing and managing debt. I’ve also learned that I can observe the people in my life, but I don’t have to be like them. I’ve identified the traits I love in the people close to me and the ones I want to be aware of and try to avoid. That has really helped me navigate switching schools, jobs and households through out my life.

EMF: Were there any people you looked up to when you were younger, and why?

SM: I think my dad is one person I will always look up to. Even when we don’t see eye to eye I have an extreme amount of respect for what he has done with his career. I also admire the way he took the responsible of raising two little girls and made it work. I know we weren’t always easy to deal with!

EMF: Do you have any mentors now? If so, can you tell me about them and what they mean to you?

SM: I’ve really admired Mary Barra recently; she’s exceling in the position of CEO of GM, even when she was thrown into the mist of the ignition recall fiasco! I’m also excited to see females excel in the auto industry which has always been male dominated. It continues to motivate me, even when I’m having a bad day.

EMF: Are there any people living or dead who you draw inspiration from?

SM: I draw inspiration from the people around me every day. I’m in the honors program at my university and I’m surrounded by people who study, and work hard just like me. I’m also truly inspired by those who fail but don’t give up!

EMF: When did you get your first job, where was it, and what prompted you to get it?

SM: As I sort of mentioned before, I got my first ‘real’ job at a grocery store when I was fourteen to pay for my car and I knew that only I could convince myself to work hard and do well in school. I wasn’t old enough to work at a dealership at that point, but I did get a summer job at a motorcycle shop. When I turned 16 I started working at a Chevy dealer and I’ve loved it ever since. Each time I moved, I went to the nearest GM dealer and applied. My main motivator to work has always been to support my expensive hobby of hot rodding and fixing cars because without a hobby I’d go crazy! It’s a great outlet to let of steam after a long day at work and school. When it was time to think about college that motivated me to take full0time positions in the summer. Thank you very much for supporting me in my studies and taking some of that load off me!

EMF: What keeps you motivated through long weeks of work and study?

SM: My family and my future are my main motivators. I want my step-sons to see that exceling in school is possible and to see and feel the rewards of hard work and schooling. I want to be able to afford experiences for my self and my family in the future and I know hard work is the key to those goals. Plus, it’s always nice to come home to a loving family full of laughter! You tend to forget about the days stress at that point.

EMF: What are your personal and professional goals?

SM: My personal goals and professional goals are still developing. Obviously, I’m passionate and involved in the auto industry. I’ve also developed a recent interest into the National Cemetery Administration and the National Cemeteries in my region. I’m excited to see where that takes me in the future. I also have an interest in attaining a master’s degree in Sustainability. I think sustainability is going to be the driving force in future innovations for any industry. I also know that family will be at the center of my future. One of my biggest challenges is finding a career path that allows me to balance family and work life because I always over work myself and want some of that energy for my family.

EMF: Why do you think it’s important for today’s undergraduates to have a clear understanding of debt and finances?

SM: Having debt is one of the worst stressors. I’m very fortunate to be debt free in my college experience thus far. I think knowledge is power so being aware of finances and debt that you have and what all the contracts mean is very important! Without an understanding you cannot be prepared to navigate any debt you’ll have to occur. I’ve learned planning ahead and separate savings accounts are my key to success for me. This is extremely important for undergraduates because they are about to enter the world as employees and need to be aware and informed about their life and their finances. My business degree helps me navigate this!

EMF: Are you planning on any further academic pursuits after completing your current degree?

SM: I am looking into a master’s program that will be applicable to various fields. I think after I complete my undergrad I will take some time to explore different fields and work some more before I choose a program. I want my money to be well spent on something that applies to my future career path.

EMF: After dedicating yourself to work and study, what do you do to wind down?

SM: I work on my car and play with my family. We love to go to car shows, hike, play and swim! I also love to read a good book in a sunny hammock!