McCray, James

Before applying to college James was not remotely interested in engineering. Rather, he was committed to the athletic track. Starting in elementary school, he played basketball competitively year-round. As he got older he set his sights on playing at the collegiate-level, eventually hoping to make a career out of it. For more than a decade he poured his money and time into programs and teams to help him excel. Unfortunately, things did not go as planned. An injury forced him to remain benched during most of his junior year. While recovering, he realized that his ailments were hindering him from performing at a higher level. In the end, he decided that it would not be worth the pain and effort to continue his basketball career.

The summer before his senior year he participated in the Indonesia-United States-Youth Leadership program and the Yale Young Global Scholars program, two programs that helped him re-prioritize his life. Through them he found a passion for engineering. Senior year he hung up his basketball shoes and began to fervently pursue academics. The transition was emotionally taxing, but the effort needed for academics was nothing new because of the strong work ethic and endurance he learned in basketball. When he started applying to colleges, he feared that he would not be accepted into his first choice, Virginia Tech. His grades during his basketball career were not stellar, neither was the rigor of his classes. Fortunately, he was accepted, but not into the College of Engineering. He was discouraged, but continued to pursue engineering.

He participated in CEED’s STEP (Student Transition Engineering Program), a five week pre-college program that is aimed at preparing engineering and non-engineering freshman students to be successful at the collegiate level. During the five weeks, the students participate in general education courses (Chemistry, Intro to Engineering Education, Multivariable Calculus, and Chemistry Lab). Outside of classes, students attend a wide-range of lectures, such as dining etiquette and business professionalism, given by Virginia Tech faculty. Moreover, the non-engineering students had a unique opportunity to transfer into the College of Engineering if they earned B’s in all of their general education courses. After working relentlessly for five weeks, James was not able to reach this goal, missing the requirement by one class. Again defeated, he continued to lose confidence in his abilities and started to doubt that he was cut out for engineering. He did, however, remain thankful for the first-hand experience of what it takes to be an engineer. He still maintains relationships with other STEP students and faculty.

James continued to pursue engineering. During the fall semester he took the necessary courses, met the G.P.A requirement, and transferred into the College of Engineering in the spring. Despite this success, he wishes he had more time for social connections and family. Whenever freshman come to him for guidance, there are two pieces of advice he gives. In order to succeed you need people. People may portray the idea that they made it independently, but no one has gotten to where they are without the support of others. Secondly, he encourages others to continue to pursue their passions. He says what most people will not tell you about their success is that there are failures along the way. The road to success is not a straight shot from point A to point B; it’s usually a windy road in the dark. With that, you are not always guaranteed to be successful, so make sure you do not have tunnel vision and look at other things that may interest you.

Outside of engineering, James has many interests. He says that the athletic part of him is still ingrained, so he makes every effort to spend time at the gym. He is also passionate about human trafficking. He hopes to be involved with an organizations that stops the exploitation of children, women, and men. Lastly, he loves to enter discussions with all people about domestic and international social issues