When students walk onto the NC State campus, they may feel excited, unsure, overwhelmed — or some combination of all of these. They come from big cities and from small towns, from Raleigh and from countries on the other side of the world.
But College of Sciences Dean Bill Ditto wants all students to share a common feeling: that they are supported, encouraged and free to forge their own futures.
“I think it’s really about creating an environment that empowers people to take chances and removes constraints on their creativity,” Ditto said.
Ditto has focused on building this kind of environment for the more than 3,500 students in the college. This means making sure they have opportunities to exchange ideas, engage in new experiences and take advantage of inspiration wherever they find it — all of which will prepare them for a bright future beyond NC State.
College of Sciences by the Numbers
In top 10% of high school class
2016-17 freshman class
Average high school GPA
2016-17 freshman class
College student body
It also means supporting students to help lift the stresses they’re facing, which can include pressure to live up to high academic expectations, prepare for and land the perfect job, juggle personal relationships and work long hours to pay for expenses.
To this end, the college began this year to host a series of Community Conversations, periodic gatherings where students can share informally with Dean Ditto about their experience in the college. No topic is off-limits. He wants to know how the college has supported them throughout their time here — and how it could do that better.
“It’s invaluable to me to get to hear from students firsthand,” Ditto said. “Everything they share, I take back to the faculty and staff in the college so we can consider their stories and feedback as we make decisions.”
Community Conversations are among several ways the college is empowering students. The college’s Office of Diversity and Student Services builds supportive relationships with students from groups who are traditionally underrepresented in the sciences, and the Imagination Corridor will help students experience science in different ways and spur their creativity.
These efforts and others are helping the college’s students think and do in big ways. Meet some of our students, and learn more about their NC State experiences.
The Virtuoso Physicist
“You need to stop working alone.”
That was the message that resonated with Yani Udiani, then a struggling sophomore in physics at NC State. He was in his own unfocused little bubble, staying up late playing video games when he should have been studying for tests and building community with like-minded classmates. The rigors of academic life were weighing on him.
That’s when one of his physics professors, Hans Hallen, spoke up. By pursuing his studies in isolation, Hallen said, Udiani wasn’t taking advantage of a group of people who wanted to help him. He received similar advice from advisers in the College of Sciences and NC State’s Initiative for Maximizing Student Diversity, who told him to believe in himself.
Udiani started looking around, and he quickly realized that there were all sorts of students who were just like him, wading through the challenging curriculum of a top physics program. “We started hanging out and talking about things,” he said. “And it made learning more efficient, because people were seeing things that I would not have seen by myself.”
Armed with this feeling of community, he turned his academic career around. He made the Dean’s List multiple times. This fall, he’ll enter graduate school in physics, and NC State is on his short list. His career goal is to be a physics professor by day and a guitar virtuoso by night — he’s event started writing his own music. NC State, he said, has moved him closer to that dream.
“If you’re a student who feels out of place, here you can just walk into professors’ offices and have conversations with them. That tells me that this is a great place,” he said.
The Graduate Leader
Sam Carpenter’s NC State experience started before she was even a student. She was about to graduate from Lynchburg College, a small school in Virginia, when she came to NC State to check out its chemistry Ph.D. program. Before she arrived, she remembered a piece of advice: Watch the students. Do they chat with their professors? Are they happy?
She watched, listened and came away impressed. Particularly encouraging was the friendly, informal way the faculty interacted with her. “I felt like I could just sit down in their offices,” she said. “It was more of a conversation than a talking-at-me type of thing.”
A Day in Sam’s Life
7 AM | Williams Lab Arrive on campus, set up experiments
9 AM | D.H. Hill Library Research group meeting
10 AM | Williams Lab Lab work
11 AM | Dabney 214 Meeting with faculty on student recruitment weekend
12 PM | Brickyard Quick lunch
2 PM | Broughton Hall Interview with Dean’s Office
3 PM | Williams Lab Back to lab, help undergrad with experiments
6 PM | Home Head home
But her first year was intimidating. She felt like she was surrounded with super-smart, successful people, and she wasn’t sure she was cut out for the rigors of the program. But then she began to build relationships, and the NC State support network she’d seen during her visit kicked in. Today she knows the graduate program administrator, the administrative staff and the department head. Chemistry at NC State feels like home.
Last year, Carpenter received a Department of Chemistry fellowship, which came with an increased stipend and a travel-and-supply allowance. She’s also president of the Chemistry Graduate Student Association, which means she helps organize the same recruiting weekend that brought her to NC State.
Now closing in on her degree, she sees herself working at a biotech or pharmaceutical company after graduation. “The prospect of actually finishing when I first got here seemed impossible,” she said. “But now, I know I can do it.”
The Role Model
When Ciera Rankin arrived at NC State, she was daunted. The campus population was larger than her hometown. But she was soon encouraged by the friendly, supportive atmosphere she found. “People would come up and talk to me, and they wanted to get to know me,” said Rankin, a senior biological sciences major.
This supportive community would become even more important to Rankin during her junior year, when she was diagnosed with functional neurological symptom disorder, which affected her motor skills and caused her to miss a semester of classes. “I wasn’t sure I would be able to finish my degree,” Rankin said. “It felt like my dreams were outside of my control.”
Rankin credits NC State’s Disability Services Office and her advisers and faculty and staff in the College of Sciences with getting her through those difficult days. “I hate that it took something bad for me to realize how much support I had this entire time,” she said.
And this support goes all the way to the top. “It’s really cool that I have a personal relationship with Dean Ditto,” Rankin said. “With him and others, whatever is going on, I know that I have someone standing behind me.”
A Day in Ciera’s Life
7 AM | Home Wake up and prepare for the day
10 AM | Wake Tech Organic Chemistry 2 class
12 PM | Millbrook HS Mentoring at-risk youth
2 PM | Gardner Hall Biology 295 class
3 PM | CORRAL Program Pick up and drop off at-risk girls for horse-riding therapy
4 PM | CORRAL Program Study and homework before driving girls home from riding
8 PM | Home Dinner and homework
12 AM | Home Prayer and bedtime
Rankin makes it her mission to give back to others who need that same sense of support. She is involved with several organizations that work with at-risk youth, including CORRAL Riding Academy and mentoring programs at Millbrook High School and the Wake County Detention Center.
“Realizing that these people are relying on me to be a role model gives me hope and energizes me,” Rankin said. “I want to help these kids see ‘if she can do it, I can do it.’”
The Risk Taker
Kelsey Shevlin has an eye on the future, but she’s also taking time to enjoy the present.
The junior from Columbus, Ohio, enrolled at NC State as an accounting major before realizing that her statistics courses were what she enjoyed most. But when she started thinking about career paths, she realized that she wanted something unconventional. Her adviser encouraged her to join the Statistics Club to learn about other opportunities.
When the club brought in a professional actuary to speak to its members, she knew she had found her career match. “The actuarial profession allows me to mix my interests in both statistics and accounting,” Shevlin said. “And I really enjoy the risk management aspect of it.”
This spring, Shevlin started the Actuarial Club as a way to bring students together around this shared interest. When she announced the new club, she expected a handful of students to join, but she ended up with more than 20 from multiple academic departments. “This is going to be a great support network to help students study together for credentialing exams and find networking opportunities,” she said.
Shevlin’s career isn’t her only focus. She is minoring in Italian and backpacked alone through Italy last summer to hone her language skills. “I love that it lets me use a different part of my brain,” she said.
The Caldwell Fellow also works as an assistant in the University Scholars Program, which allows her to attend many university events and activities. “Being involved in things outside my academic area on campus has provided me with so many opportunities to learn and to interact with different types of people,” Shevlin said. “I love that there’s always something interesting going on here.”