Please Wait a Moment

Bayleigh Graves didn’t waste any time joining a roller derby team in Columbus after meeting the minimum age requirement of 18.

“My birthday was on a Tuesday, practice was that Thursday, and I was like, I’m good to go. I’m going,” Graves said. “It’s coming up on three years now since I’ve started.”

Graves, who is currently a junior polymer science and engineering major at Southern Miss, is also on a team in Hattiesburg.

“A friend of mine introduced me to the sport a few years ago. I just thought it was the coolest thing that it was a female majority sport and I thought it would be a good challenge for myself,” said Graves. “I think the last time I played a sport was when I was about six, so it had been a while. The physicality wasn’t too difficult to get used to. I know after my first practice I was covered in so many bruises from falling that my mom tried to convince me to do something else.”

Her mother’s efforts were to no avail, but it’s not like Graves wasn’t involved in something a little less physical. As a matter of fact, she was an excellent clarinetist. Graves played for 12 years and earned a spot in the Southern Miss Pride of Mississippi Marching Band and in the concert band. A jaw injury forced her to quit after her sophomore year.

“It was great. I loved it,” she said. “It was a lot of work but I think it was definitely worth it. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I think everyone should get to experience it at some point.”

During childhood, Graves also enjoyed science and technology.

“A lot of it was just little experiments I was running at my house. Like, which one of these skateboard wheels is gonna help me go the furthest on my super rocky driveway,” she said. “I wanted to have things that work better. Nobody else is going to tell me, so I’ll find out for myself.”

Her experiments quickly became more advanced, and as she got older, she became more interested in computers.

“I did a lot of part changes on laptops I had growing up. I normally would end up getting my parents’ old laptop. Whenever they would upgrade, they would hand me theirs,” Graves said. “They would wait, five, six, seven years to upgrade their computer, so the parts were always really old. I worked on taking parts that I found off of other computers {and} made them run. I actually got one laptop, I think it was a 2008 Toshiba, I actually got it to run some pretty heavy games on it. I’m still pretty proud of that.

“You start messing around with the parts, you feel like you’re gonna break it every time. Then when it boots up again, you’re like, I did that, that’s so cool.”

Her love of technology was the reason she started her academic career at Southern Miss as a computer science major. However, during her freshman year, something didn’t feel right.

“I noticed throughout my time in school, I would skip over words, I would misread them. I kinda just brushed it off as just, you know, I read through it really quickly and so I thought I just kept misreading it,” she said. “It wasn’t until I had somebody point out to me that a lot of the issues I had lined up pretty closely with dyslexia. So, I talked it over with my doctor and she agreed.”

It was a shocking diagnosis for Graves, especially considering she was at the top of her class at Caledonia High School.

“It really wasn’t until the last couple of years where things started getting a lot harder and it was more difficult to read. I started noticing the little things that I would mess up on in high school and earlier, well, they were starting to add up now,” Graves said. “If I’m struggling with it, it’s more helpful for me to move on to something else and then come back to it when I’ve had a chance to refresh and reset. It takes a lot of getting used to.”

Halfway through her freshman year, she also switched her major to polymer science and engineering. It didn’t take long for her to get adjusted, and today she especially enjoys her research with high-char polycyanurates and the applications they can have in making products safer.

“That high char yield, that mention of where, is just another way to say it’s fireproof and it’s not really going to burn up as much,” she said. “It’s also good as something to put in a plane or a rocket so in case something happened, the whole thing isn’t going to burn up.

“I hope to see in the future that they will be put into stuff like planes and spacecraft, as well as even in different applications for cars. I just believe they are a way to improve safety for those types of machines.”

Her academic advisor at Southern Miss is Dr. Heather Broadhead. She said this field is perfect for Graves.

“Bayleigh’s desire for learning, passion for research, and ability to work well with others make her a rising star in the field of polymer science and engineering,” said Broadhead. “I have heard great things from her graduate student mentor about her lab skills and dedication.”

Graves knows the time is coming to make a decision about her future. She said she has thought about going to grad school, but right now favors joining the workforce.

“I’m leaning more towards industry because I really want to eventually be someone who’s in the process of developing and making new composites for safety applications,” Graves said.
“I fell in love with it. It’s the best thing ever. It’s incredibly fun to do. It would be nice to be able to make something that could keep other people safe as well.”

She also said her scholarship from the Mississippi Manufacturers Association is helping her enjoy her studies even more.

“Financial worries have always been a thing for me in college. My family, you know, we’re not the most well-off,” Graves said. “And so just by having this scholarship, it took away a lot of the worry and stress of how am I going to pay for this next semester.”