When Raynard Woods’ son Jeremiah decided to go college at the University at Buffalo, that moment held some emotion for him. It wasn’t just touching to see his son all grown up – it was also seeing him start his journey at the college where Woods spent his formative years about 30 years ago.
Both Woods’ studied in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences; Raynard in electrical engineering, and Jeremiah in biomedical engineering. “It brings a smile to my heart to see him on his path,” says Woods, a senior program manager in the Space and Defense sector at Moog, Inc.
Woods’ (BS’93, MS ‘96 electrical engineering) own path started in Angola, N.Y., a suburb south of Buffalo located on Lake Erie. Growing up, he excelled in math, science and German. In 1988, he entered college for engineering, after his parents and one of his older sisters encouraged him to pursue higher education. His sister introduced him to one of his future mentors, Drexel Gidney, who was an undergraduate advisor in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at UB and has since retired.
During his undergraduate years, Gidney introduced him to the UB Chapter of the National Society of Black (NSBE) engineers.
While working with NSBE, Woods learned that he had a passion and a strength to work as a part of team – and that continues to this day. “I’m constantly motivated by helping the team to achieve its best work,” says Woods, who joined Moog in 2008 after a decade in the auto industry. “Seeing my team members feeling like they have contributed brings me satisfaction.”
Woods’ team has recently been working on a space flight launch vehicle. “It’s incredibly gratifying to be able to look at the hardware on a rocket going up to space and think, ‘I helped do that!’”
We asked Woods to reflect on his years in the School of Engineering and Applied Science.
How did your time at UB prepare you for your career?
I made connections and developed leadership skills as vice president of NSBE and by working with Buffalo Engineering Awareness for Minorities (BEAM), where I helped grade school and high school students with projects on Saturdays.
During my time at UB, I got connected with an internship at then GM Delphi Harrison Thermal Systems in Lockport. At GM Delphi Harrison, I was able to develop my leadership skills in the day-to-day operations of working with a team to deliver a product. After graduating in 1993, I took a job with GE Aerospace in Binghamton, NY, where I had the opportunity to be in the leadership development program. In the program you work full-time and earn your master’s degree. After a year, I decided I wanted to go to school full-time so I could finish my master’s degree sooner and applied to UB.
When working on my master’s degree at UB, I had the opportunity to take part in the McNair Scholars program, named for the second African American in space, which supports underrepresented undergraduate students in pursuing graduate education. When I was almost done working on my Masters, I got reconnected with GM. It was there that I was able to grow my leadership skills working with all levels of business.
Was there a memorable moment from your UB experience that has stuck with you?
Professor Dollinger (faculty member in the Department of Electrical Engineering who died in 1996) always taught us to think outside the box – and modelled that himself! I’ll never forget the time he saw a sign that said don't spill water on the floor so he threw the cup of water to the ceiling.
Dr. John Staley (former leader of UB’s Cora P. Maloney College who retired in 2008) was also extremely influential in my life as a mentor. He was the one who helped encourage me and students like me to stay the course and help others find the path. He was there to give an ear to listen and give advice academically and personally. That taught me the importance of listening to guide and help the younger generation.
What advice do you have for UB students who have recently graduated?
Develop leadership skills and soft skills and, most importantly, work at getting along with others. Learn how to work as a team, to study as a team. Sometimes for the good of the team you’ll have to swallow your ego (but notice I didn’t say your individuality). Remember leadership isn’t just being out in front but watching for those who are behind you and showing them the way.