New Math Department Chair planning on expanding STEM programs

Dr. Sheyleah Harris-Plant shares fundamental lessons with her students by providing insights through the use of mathematics.

Dr. Harris-Plant is an Alabama native and a military dependent whose father served in the United States Army. She says being raised in a military family taught her the importance of discipline, hard work, teamwork, and respect for different cultures.

She graduated from Daleville High School in 1998 before attending Enterprise State Junior College, where she received an Associate of Arts Degree in Mathematics in 2000.

“I am a first generation college student,” Dr. Harris-Plant said. “I was originally trying to use the TAP program that was offered, but I didn’t meet the criteria for financial need or academic necessity. However, my community college allowed me to be a tutor for them, and I had access to advising, which is what I wanted.”

After graduating from ESC, she transferred to Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Alabama. She attended the four-year institution for two years, graduating in 2002 and earning her Bachelor of Arts degree in Mathematics.

As she continued her journey through college, the idea of becoming a college professor truly began at Huntingdon College. It all started with small, simple tutoring sessions, and from there, everything fell into place.

“Huntingdon College is a private university, and a lot of students who attended there came from money,” Dr. Harris-Plant explained. “One of my cluster mates, who was a History major, was struggling with her Calculus I class and  came to me for help. She and all of her friends were willing to pay me $20 an hour to tutor them through the course.”

After she graduated from Huntingdon College, she then continued her education at Texas Tech University, earning a Master of Science Degree in Math in 2004, and later her doctoral degree in higher education in 2010.

“I went to a grad fair, and for every four-year school I thought that I would be interested in, I threw my name in the ring,” recalled Dr. Harris-Plant. “Texas Tech University called, saying that they would give me a TAship  if I taught a few classes for them and they would pay for my school.”

After completing her master’s degree at TTU, Dr. Harris-Plant applied to work at South Plains College. She felt drawn to work at a small community college because she knows many students may feel discouraged or disappointed for having to start at a two-year school rather than a four-year school. She tries to remind her students that they can still be successful no matter where they decide to start or continue their education.

Dr. Harris-Plant also works with the SPC Alumni Association to find successful alumni to return to the campus and talk to current students to show them they can be just as successful, no matter where they go.

After she began working for SPC, her husband, Robert Plant, soon followed after he completed his education at Texas Tech University and serves as an assistant professor of mathematics. Dr. Harris-Plant teaches a variety of courses, such as intermediate, college algebra, trigonometry, and pre-calculus.

“I prefer to prepare students to transfer into calculus,” explained Dr. Harris-Plant. “It’s not that I can’t teach the harder classes, but I do it to help students recognize the patterns and give them harder problems now before they take the even harder classes. I try to make it so that way it is easier for them in the future.”

Dr. Harris-Plant expresses that math is a strong skill subject. It is nothing like a history or English course, as the professor is giving students the tools they need in order to problem solve and walk through long processes in order to complete an equation.

“Once you get the process down,” she says, “you realize that the rules don’t change. We just give you uglier looking problems to try to scare you. I can teach you the steps in the process, and then I can give you whatever problem I want, no matter how ugly it is. I just want my students to recognize that the rules are the same, and just because it looks different means that the process changes; it doesn’t.”

Not only does Dr. Harris-Plant try to help her students better understand the subjects they are discussing in class, she tries to incorporate life lessons as well.

“I know students need to figure out priorities for themselves,” she explains, “and depending on the age group, there are usually some that have conflicts with each other. I prefer using the honor system and self-policing instead of me having to do it for them. In the real world, your boss doesn’t usually come in and settle things for you. Normally, they are expecting for everyone to take care of what needs to be done.”

Dr. Harris-Plant, who has been working at for SPC for the past 15 years, recently was appointed as the new chairperson for the Mathematics and Engineering Department.

“I have mixed emotions about the new position,” Dr. Harris-Plant said. “I like being a faculty member, and I know that I’m still part of the team. However, I really enjoy being on that side of the team. Part of the new position pulled me out of the classroom, but administration is something I’m good at, so I can see why I was appointed to this position.”

Dr. Harris-Plant went from teaching 15 hours to six hours once she was appointed to the new position. Even though she wishes she could still spend more time in the classroom, she and other faculty members are coming up with ways to improve the Mathematics and Engineering programs.

She sees that the math and engineering program is growing tremendously and wants to do everything she can to provide students with beneficial resources and offer more courses to choose from.

“We would like to offer more engineering courses, because there is a push nationally through our STEM programs,” said Dr. Harris-Plant. “This is going to directly affect us, because we offer two of the three programs.”

Currently, the department is in the process of incorporating corequisite courses. Rather than having students complete one college math course for a semester, the courses are used as a support course for students to complete their math credits in one semester.

The department also is looking into adding another computer programing course. They are hoping to help students finish their education at a fast pace and continue to expand the STEM programs in order to serve more students within the department.

She said that the department is “also creating the Maker Space, which was started by Dr. Ramesh Krishnan and Dean Alan Worley. Even though it is not finished, we have plans of adding a 3D printer, among other things.”

Dr. Harris-Plant says that the ultimate goal for the department is to provide excellent instructors to help students become more independent.

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