What makes Rylie Edwards ’21 run and leap over obstacles—passing her personal best though it was the first hurdle of the race—whether on the track or in the classroom? I asked myself that question many times as her exemplary list of accomplishments and collegiate challenges rolled out before my eyes.
To begin with—“What?! A 5'4'' hurdler? First Place at Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference?” Followed by—Earned an "A" in Machine Learning, the legendary badass data analytics business course? Did I mention Dean's List? I couldn't get Rylie Sierra Edwards on a Zoom call fast enough.
Rylie, your graduation from Trinity this past spring accompanied possible torrential rain storms looming over campus, a place where you were no stranger to obstacles. Yet, you continued in what has become your dash for achievement and soon became a data analyst for purchasing at Labatt Food Service, the 10th largest food service distributor in the U.S. I have to ask you—what makes you run? And, what made you dash to Trinity?
I was looking at different colleges, and my mom suggested Trinity. After I applied and was accepted, we drove down from Dallas, and I felt the vibe of the campus. The city was five minutes away, and the atmosphere was warm. We drove past the soccer field, and I saw palm trees—I was sold. Everyone seemed to know each other, people were smiling, and it just seemed like a great place, one where I needed to be. It was also an amazing academic school.
What drew you to Trinity—from a childhood in Kansas and high school years in Dallas—to ultimately earn a Bachelor of Science in Business Analytics and Technology (BAT)? For most students, the charm is in the data and what one can do with it. Where was the romance of it for you?
When I first entered Trinity, I knew I wanted to do something in business. Although I wasn’t quite sure where I wanted to land, the possibilities in the data world enticed me. I had not previously really experienced diving deep into coding, so there was a big learning curve for me. The romance in data analytics was the challenge.
And your most challenging data analytics class?
Machine Learning! Our professor, Jorge Colazo, Ph.D., chair of the business analytics and technology department, was tough. I got a 40 on the first test. That was the point when I realized I really needed to do some serious studying to understand this. Although I ended up dropping the course that semester, I did attend every class, stayed with my group, completed our year-long project, and studied through the summer. The next semester, I got an "A" in his class.
Alongside a demanding academic workload, you also balanced being a hurdler, the track and field team captain, and standout Student Ambassador. What leadership and personal development skills played an important role?
Leadership hinges on not being so focused on yourself but focused on the energy of others. Leadership also means being passionate about something, having a purpose that radiates through your group and makes people want to follow. I used excitement as a way of leading.
In addition to academic success, Trinity Tigers excel in a variety of athletic arenas. Bob McKinley ’72, Dick Stockton ’72, Butch Newman ’65, and Jerheme Urban ’03 are among the numerous sports headliners, top coaches, and staff members who have passed through the athletic fieldhouse. Who was your standout coach?
Todd Wildman ’09, M’10, the assistant track and field coach and my hurdling coach. He was inspirational. A Trinity graduate, he won two NCAA National Championships and six All-American titles in the high jump and long jump, 110m and 440m hurdles. At the beginning of my senior year, I said I wanted to medal in the 440m hurdles and Coach Wildman said, "No, you are going to get first," and then I did.
You recently graduated from Trinity, and your memories of life on campus are still vivid in your mind. Paint a portrait for us—the People? Profs? Places?
I’ll go pre-COVID because there you can really experience the beauty of the University. My first experience on campus was an intervarsity scavenger hunt downtown. I recall the late nights in Murchison, in the library—the laugh-attacks, the downing of as many Starbucks espressos as humanly possible. I remember while enrolled in Machine Learning, I had my first all-nighter and saw the sun come up, feeling extremely tired and satisfied. I recall my last track meet: the ecstatic feeling of beating my personal record in the 440m hurdles by three seconds with my parents watching.
What is it about the 2021 Trinity graduating class that stands out in your mind?
The biggest thing from the Class of 2021 was our diligence with the coronavirus. Understanding the power it had and the power we had together to fight it. Each of us all really did our part to finish the year strong, despite all the challenges and everything that comes from online classes.
What are you looking most forward to during your first Alumni Weekend?
I am looking forward to the football game and seeing my track coaches and my former track friends as well as my fellow Student Ambassador friends. I’m also excited to see the new renovations on campus.
What would you say to your fellow 2021 Trinity graduates to encourage them to return to campus for the reunion?
Trinity is all about connections, and the best way to get reconnected to the campus and each other is through the reunion. Trinity’s hospitality is always outstanding. It’s amazing to see where you came from, in comparison to where you currently are now, and to reminisce on your college days.
How do you plan to continue to keep up with classmates after Alumni Weekend?
In this generation, we are so connected through technology that I think it makes it easier to keep up-to-date with one another, but also much more difficult to stay intertwined in each other's lives. Many of my friends are still in San Antonio, but some are already in different states and countries. To stay connected, I send funny memes and voice texts that make it easy for the other person to respond in their own free time. I also literally get handwritten letters from current students. That shows how important getting personal is to Trinity.
On Saturday night of Alumni Weekend, you will return to Oakmont for the Block Party, where you can put your networking skills to the test. Will you follow-up with a handwritten note?
Yes! I think a handwritten note speaks volumes. It goes to show how Trinity is small but mighty. We have connections everywhere. We take the time and put the effort into every student—no one is just a number.
Finally, you have been an influencer throughout your Trinity career as a leader and a team player. What opportunities do you see on your horizon? What is your advice to your fellow alumni?
I definitely want to continue working with food and analytics. Currently, I have been doing a “100 days of code” challenge to learn more about Python. So, I’m definitely diving deeper into the coding world. In a year, I want to go back to school to get my master's degree in data science. My best piece of advice for a fellow alumnus/a is: if you can do it in five minutes, do it now.