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Admirable alum shares his secrets of success

November 13: This homecoming, Berea's Math alums shared lessons in leadership that proved to be an integral part of teaching students numerous life lessons, career skills and other valuable functions.

Platt speaking to students

Students gathered with some of Berea’s distinguished Math alumni over Homecoming weekend for valuable career discussions, delicious desserts and a wonderful lecture by Tim Platt, a Berea graduate and CIO for Toyota’s North American division. The Lecture and career panel, organized by the Berea College Department of Math and Computer Science, was one of the numerous activities and opportunities provided for students and alumni over the Homecoming weekend. To kick off the weekend Homecoming festivities, students and alumni crowded the large classroom in the bottom floor of Draper, filling the seats, standing room and sitting in packed window sills, to try out Sandy Bolster’s delicious, legendary brownies. And as an even better treat participants also received the opportunity to meet with Berea alum Tim Platt, who currently serves as Toyota’s Chief Information Officer for the North American division.

The Homecoming Lecture: “From Berea to the World” was led by Platt (Class of 88’), who describes himself as an introvert, a characteristic often associated with math and computer science students, spoke with students about his days at Berea and how he was able to use his acquired knowledge in mathematics and computer science to develop his management skills and the interpersonal relationships that allowed him to move up the corporate ladder at one of the world’s top manufacturing companies. Like many of the other alums, Platt was able to overcome his challenges with learning how to study math and eventually succeeded before moving forward to become a successful innovator and IT developer. Platt shares:

“I took topology, which fulfilled about three different requirements. But once I got into topology for about the first two or three weeks, well—I thought it was a mistake. At that time, you were either one of the A plus students or you were a D student. I managed to sneak through with a B, in a subject based upon partial credit. I would start the proofs at the top. I would start from the bottom, and somewhere in the middle, a miracle occurred…”

After Platt completed his course in topology, he was able to spend more time focusing upon a wider range of studies, including electronics, computer science, business and economics. Platt was able to use his experience acquired through the labor program, through his time at Berea. Platt began as an assistant carpenter in the theatre department and later went on to the computer center where he worked as an operator. He also worked as a TA where he not only graded labs but also learned how to draw maps on the Macintosh for students to use as a study aid. At the time, digital cartography was something that had not been done. The results from Platt’s efforts gave students more time to study their material and raised students’ collective average scores one letter grade.

Eventually Platt went on to develop Berea’s faculty payroll system. Platt graduated from Berea College with a bachelor degree of arts in Mathematics with Computer Science in 1988.

Platt went on to work for Toyota Motor Manufacturing in Kentucky before being transferred with his family overseas to serve as an executive at Toyota’s European manufacturing; research & development and sales headquarters. In Brussels, Belgium, he supported the establishment of IT Management functions for the newly consolidating business units and in 2007 returned to serve as an Information Systems Executive. In 2009, Platt was selected to lead the Information Systems Division for Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America, Inc. Platt received ten promotions over a 22 year time period at Toyota.

Platt shared that his lack of extracurricular activities presented a social gap that initially hindered him from moving into management. Platt served on the Student Senate at Berea and as a member of Berea's Concert Choir. Platt brought several descriptive organizational charts and graphs to illustrate how his academic, work and extracurricular experience at Berea affected his performance at Toyota when he was being considered for management positions. He emphasized the importance of mathematicians to learn how to build pleasant interpersonal relationships. Platt shared how he was able to use his talents in mathematical reasoning and structured logic to learn how to clarify where the gaps were in his own social skills set. He used this reasoning to find the experts to help him to develop a practical action plan to improve these skills. Platt’s methods developed during this gap are now a part of Toyota’s standard training procedures in North America and Europe.

Students enjoyed the lecture and many returned the following afternoon for Saturday’s career discussion panel. There students were able to gather and gain valuable wisdom and advice from other helpful and admirable alumni. The other panelists; Crystal Dean (Class of 2005) and Joe Stewart (Class of 2000), sat with Platt to answer students questions about deciding upon majors, what classes to take, grad school, career options and even ways to make their resumes effective or appear more distinctive during interviews. Platt was also sure to emphasize the importance of developing a wide variety of skills, recognize development opportunities and how to cultivate resumes reflecting the breadth of experience gained at Berea. Platt also reiterated the importance of those seeking jobs of wearing suits to interviews.

“Fifteen years of interviewing, we’ve never had someone sitting across the table in an open shirt and blue jeans or an open shirt and slacks and say, ‘you know, we like how they’re going against the grain. We like their creative spirit.’ No, we’ve said, ‘they know the rules and they are choosing to disobey the rules of suits at interviews. We don’t want them to work here. So keep that in the back of your mind. In this generation, a lot of you are forgetting some of the basics things like wearing suits to interviews.”

Joe Stewart came to Berea undecided and was inspired to pursue his applied mathematics degree at the end of his sophomore year after attending a two week engineering statics course at Washington University. “He graduated from Berea in 2000 with a degree in Mathematics, and then transferred to University of Kentucky to pursue a degree in engineering. In 2003, after 5 semesters of full-time engineering courses and 1 semester of coop, Joe graduated from UK with a bachelor degree in Mechanical Engineering. Currently, Joe is working as an engineering manager at Trane, a company dealing with the heating, ventilation, air conditioning (HVAC) units. He manages a team of three designers, two engineers, and a small team of Chinese engineers that are responsible for the engineering design and equipment submittal processing of a line of commercial HVAC custom air handlers."

Crystal Dean graduated from Berea College with a degree in Math Education and has been teaching since her final short term at Berea College. Dean completed her master’s degree at EKU in Secondary Math Education and has taught Algebra I, Geometry, Accelerated Geometry, Algebra 2, and Probability/Statistics at East Jessamine High School outside of Lexington. In addition, Crystal also coached the girls’ basketball and volleyball teams at the high school.

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