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Alumni Spotlight

T. Wayne Gatewood

T. Wayne Gatewood

1979 Graduate uses hammers and saws to help kids

January 28, 2012

T. Wayne Gatewood calls himself "The Builder."

The 1979 management graduate from Columbus, Ohio, attended WVU on an athletic scholarship and played offensive tackle in the 1975 Peach Bowl. However, when he graduated it was not sports or management that he finally pursued. He wanted to help young people face the challenges of living.

Gatewood runs  The Builder program that gets young people involved in carpentry, through which he teaches math, science and "life lessons" to help them develop and focus on career plans. He also does public speaking and in 2009 and 2010 worked with the WVU Health Sciences and Technology Academy, a math and science enrichment program for minority students grades 9-12 and underrepresented communities. He brought his skills and message to the WVU National Youth Sports Program in 2010.

Gatewood learned carpentry before he learned how to tackle, but he recalls that, as a young man, he had difficulty with the math involved in calculating with a ruler or tape measure. He was educationally sidelined in the fifth grade as a slow learner which, he said ensured he would learn slowly.

T. Wayne Gatewood

He also remembers what a step forward it was when he figured out how to use the tape measure—with help—and he believes carpentry is the perfect foundation for teaching young people. He had a summer job with a coal company during his time at WVU, and was helping to construct a building. When the person he was working with discovered he couldn't read a tape measure accurately—he was rounding off 18ths and 16ths—the man helped him. "He wasn't demeaning toward me," Gatewood recalls. "He didn't say 'you dumb jock.'" Gatewood believes it changed his life, and he doesn't want other young people to repeat the difficulties he encountered.

"Many of my students have the same problem I had with reading a tape measure," he said. "I have found that many adults do also, which is understandable because it is not used every day. I have been building things since I was five years old, and if I had understood measurement in high school I would have been an engineering major at WVU."

His students build simple objects with wood—stools, CD holders—but the lessons are profound. While nailing their projects together, for example, they often bend the nails. That's an opportunity to discuss leverage in The Builder's world.

"I believe that educating young people is more critical now than ever before because of the number of children that are choosing to drop out of school in middle school," he said. "I choose to work with young people between the ages of 10 to 14 because they are easier to influence. Arnie Duncan, the U.S. secretary of education, said that education is the civil rights issue of this generation."

T. Wayne Gatewood

Gatewood has a talent for turning adversity to advantage. When his football eligibility ran out, and he had one more year of school left but no money to pay, he happened to pick up a shot ball at a track and field practice and threw it. The coach, WVU Hall of Fame's Stan Romanoski, offered him a scholarship on the spot, and he was able to complete his final year at WVU. Gatewood went on to set a record with a toss of 53 feet 2.5 inches.

But being a student athlete wasn't easy. By his junior year he was married, had a daughter and was driving a taxi in his spare time. When he needed a calculator for his business courses, he went to Ed Pastilong, who was assistant athletic director in 1979, for help because he couldn't afford one. He was driven to succeed, to get his diploma, and would let nothing deter him. "I never thought of quitting school," he said.

Gatewood, who held a record in shot put at WVU, and his family owned a Donatos Pizza franchise and was director of training and human resource manager for almost 12 years, then left for a job in the construction industry. A year later he was diagnosed with cancer, which changed his focus.

"I decided to start formally working with young people at my church camp about 21 years ago," he said. "Our church camp didn't have enough men and I decided to help. Since then, I have helped build lives by using my gift as a carpenter, combined with math and science. My goal is to help young people overcome the fear of math and help them begin to explore their gifts."

Gatewood in his "Academic Assault Vehicle", a converted U-Haul trailer, a classroom/shop on wheels. "We can't be on defense with education. We have to be on the offensive," he said.

He said most of the young people he works with come from single-parent homes headed by women, as he did. "These mothers are totally engaged in their children's lives, which is a prerequisite for working with them," he said. "I have learned that to make a positive impact on children you must have parental engagement. Studies have shown that the two most important factors that drive student success is parent expectations and teacher expectations. I expect the best."

Audiences are engaged in his talks because his love of his craft is contagious and transfers to his listeners and students. Ann Chester, who runs the  HSTA program, said he brings a motivating message to young people. "Mr. Gatewood has been working with HSTA for about three years now," she said. "His team is great with our students. They provide meaningful experiences for the students to use math, leadership skills and verbal skills while building props and creating and leading a fun-filled evening for younger HSTA students. The kids love him and he capitalizes on this, motivating them to perform at higher levels."

Gatewood, who was co-captain of the football team in 1977, said his mother and grandmother helped him develop a "passion for empowering young people," and that he also found strong support from aunts, uncles and cousins. "I come from a very inspiring family," he said.

Being an inspiration is exactly what Gatewood hopes to be for young people with whom he works. He wants to, in his way, pay back all the people who have inspired and helped him along the way.

He advises today's students entering WVU to ask for help when they need it and to "stay focused on your dream."

"I have had many people help make a way for me," he said. "Passion is contagious, so always go all out because you never know who is watching. I have found that most people want to see young people succeed, especially when they see how passionate they are about their dreams."

As Gatewood puts it, "We come, we build, we learn."