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Student Success

Gearing Up for Graduation

From dance to data, two College of Sciences students tell us about their passions and their plans for life after NC State.

Amanda Baright

Spring. It’s the season of new beginnings, with temperatures rising, flowers blooming and graduates turning their tassels as they transition from students to alumni. Each member of the Wolfpack makes their own mark on NC State and the world, and we can’t wait to see what the Class of 2024 has in store. As we prepare to bid them farewell, we sat down with two College of Sciences graduates to reminisce about their NC State journeys — what led them here, what kept them here and where they’re going next. 

Sam Ainley-Zoll: From Ballet to Biological Sciences

Sam Ainley-Zoll’s professional ballet career has taken him to New York, Boston, Estonia, Denmark and beyond. When it brought him to North Carolina in 2017, he knew this was home.

“Coming here to North Carolina, I knew I didn’t want to leave,” he said.

As a dancer with Carolina Ballet, he performed multiple times each month while taking science classes at Wake Technical Community College, with the hopes of pursuing a career in the healthcare field. The leap from ballet to medicine was natural. 

“In the ballet world, conditioning, health management, nutrition and injury prevention are huge. Ballet and the health field are very intertwined,” Ainley-Zoll said. “I actually know a lot of dancers who are now doctors or physical therapists. So I always knew I wanted to pursue medicine.”

Sam Ainley-Zoll

Even though North Carolina has many options for pre-med tracks, NC State stood out to Ainley-Zoll. 

“Something about NC State really stuck with me, and that was solidified by the Goodnight Scholars Program,” he said. “I actually found two other students in the program who were former dancers, and that really helped ease the transition and gave me a lot more confidence in becoming a full time student. I can’t speak highly enough about the Goodnight Scholars Program and the people involved. The staff act as a springboard for us, so that we can go and pursue whatever we want.”

For Ainley-Zoll, the support of the Goodnight Scholar staff — and the academics — confirmed that he’d made the right decision in coming to NC State. 

“It’s shocking how much I’m able to pull from my classes at my job at a pediatric urgent care,” Ainley-Zoll said. “I’m able to actually hold conversations with physicians, or even answer some patients’ questions. Seeing how amazingly my course content has transferred over has been a nice surprise for me, because it’s enabled me to be confident in my own medical knowledge, even as an undergraduate.”

Sam Ainley-Zoll as Romeo in a ballet performance of Romeo and Juliet
Sam Ainley-Zoll as Romeo in Robert Weiss’ Romeo and Juliet. Photo courtesy of Sam Ainley-Zoll.
Sam Ainley-Zoll performing in the La Fille mal gardée
Sam Ainley-Zoll performing in La Fille mal gardée. Photo courtesy of Sam Ainley-Zoll.

Although he’s focused on pursuing a medical career these days — he hopes to be a physician in the field of sports and dance medicine treating professional and pre-professional dancers — he still likes to stay involved in the world of ballet. 

“I like to say I keep my pointed foot in the door of ballet,” he said. 

He teaches at two different ballet schools and fills in for male roles in various productions. Last December he performed in City Ballet Raleigh’s rendition of the Nutcracker at NC State’s very own Stewart Theatre. 

Sam Ainley-Zoll and his girlfriend pose with a life-size Nutcracker figurine.
Sam Ainley-Zoll and his girlfriend, a fellow ballet dancer and NC State alumna, in front of Stewart Theatre after performing in the Nutcracker. Photo courtesy of Sam Ainley-Zoll.

“I had my transfer student orientation at Stewart Theatre,” Ainley-Zoll said. “Chancellor Randy Woodson spoke. Two years later, I’m on the same stage in white tights. That was a cool experience.” 

He’s looking forward to seeing Woodson next at the PNC Arena for the commencement ceremony on May 4. The ceremony will mark the end of his time on NC State’s campus, but he’ll never forget the relationships he built and the resources he found here. He hopes the students that come after him will benefit from them as much as he has. 

“If you can think of something, NC State has it,” Ainley-Zoll said. “There’s no hole that’s left to fill in terms of the help that’s available.”

Amanda Baright: Finding a Home Within the Wolfpack

At the May 2022 commencement ceremony, commencement marshal Amanda Baright stood at the top of the seating section she was assisting with and looked down at the rows of red caps filling the PNC Arena. 

“That’s a memory I cherish a lot — seeing all the graduates in their caps and gowns and seeing just how massive NC State is,” Baright said. “We all have our own small worlds within the university, so seeing everyone come together at commencement reminded me that we all make up the Wolfpack.”

Amanda Baright

Baright, a statistics student, has served as a commencement marshal at the last four ceremonies. This time, she’ll be in the stands, turning her tassel along with the rest of the Class of 2024. It’s been a long-awaited moment. Baright graduated high school in 2020, meaning she didn’t get much of a graduation ceremony due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Partly because I didn’t get my own graduation ceremony, I’ve been vicariously living through the four other ceremonies,” she said. “My high school graduation was me driving in the car and my principal handing me a diploma through the car window.”

It’s bittersweet knowing her days as a commencement marshal are behind her, but Baright is excited about the future. She’s proud of what she’s accomplished at NC State — and she plans to stick around. In the fall, she’ll be starting a master’s program in the Department of Statistics, with a concentration in biostatistics, and will be working part time as a teaching assistant for NC State’s Institute for Advanced Analytics. Even as a graduate student, she hopes to continue the work she’s been doing with the College of Sciences Student Ambassadors Program. 

Chancellor Randy Woodson and the commencement marshals pose for a photo
Amanda Baright
Amanda Baright has served as a commencement marshal at the last four commencement ceremonies. Photos courtesy of Amanda Baright.

By representing the College of Sciences at various campus events and giving tours to prospective students, she’s been able to show current and prospective students that they can do more with statistics and mathematics than they might think. 

“I’ve gotten to share how you can use the power of data to make real change in the world,” Baright said. “And how NC State has made an impact on who I am today, on making me a strong, empowered woman who is confident in her ability as a statistician — and built me up to know that you don’t have to only care about the science of data. You can equally care about the people the numbers represent and impact.”

Baright’s desire to continue with the ambassador program is a testament to the effect it’s had on her. 

“I have no obligation to stay on as a graduate student, but the fact that I’m passionate about wanting to come back shows the impact that the environment has had on making NC State feel like a home to me,” she said.