The class of 2021 is leaving behind a legacy of perseverance through difficult times and looking forward to a future of endless possibilities. In spite of a global pandemic, they charged forward, determined to complete their education and emerge from COVID-19’s challenges equipped to serve.
Recently, the campus community came together to celebrate these graduates in two ceremonies held at Carter-Finley Stadium. NC State conferred 4,566 bachelor’s, 90 associate, 1,752 master’s, 199 doctoral and 96 Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degrees. Here, we talk to several graduates about their NC State experience and the next chapter in their lives.
Ph.D. in Chemistry
NC State’s reputation as a leading R1 university attracts top graduate students from around the country. That includes Lexie Malico, a native of Somers, N.Y.
Before coming to campus to pursue a doctoral degree in chemistry, Malico completed her Bachelor of Arts in chemistry at Wesleyan University.
“When I came to visit NC State during my recruitment weekend for the Department of Chemistry, the faculty and students I interacted with were so passionate about their work,” said Malico. “Moreover, the close relationship that the department has with nearby companies in Research Triangle Park made me feel like I would have really exceptional networking opportunities to prepare me for what comes after graduate school. Beyond the quantifiable benefits that NC State had to offer, when I was walking around on campus it genuinely felt like home.”
Malico’s doctoral research focused on the development of high-throughput screening platforms for the detection of high-value chemicals. Leveraging these screens, she and her colleagues were able to optimize the enzymes and biosynthetic pathways for these compounds, toward their goal of creating sustainable and industrially viable pathways to these compounds.
Her drive for success and passion for advocacy led Malico to a high level of campus engagement during the course of her studies. She was involved in Student Government, where she served as a graduate student senator for two sessions and director of graduate student relations for one session. She was also active in the Graduate Student Association, serving as president this academic year.
Through her involvement in these organizations, she was able to collaborate with campus partners to push for the development of the Graduate Student Issues Taskforce, which addresses the unique concerns of graduate students, ranging from the advisor-advisee relationship to student fees to immigration concerns.
By 2020, Malico had reached the point in her degree program where she was primarily collecting data for her dissertation. The shutdown of campus research that March was devastating for her progress, but she was able to pick up other projects to keep her occupied, including co-authoring a few review papers. Despite the challenges that COVID-19 inevitably caused, the last year was a valuable crash course in resiliency.
“I have had the opportunity to work with and be mentored by some really exceptional people across campus — students, faculty and staff — who taught me a lot about the kind of leader I want to be,” said Malico. “When it comes to my academics, no one made more of an impact than my advisor, Dr. Gavin Williams, who offered me so many opportunities to develop as a scientist. The people I met at NC State truly became family to me, and I would not be here without the support that they have all given me.”
Malico will be joining the Leadership Development Program at BASF in June, completing three 8-month rotations at different locations across the United States in a variety of scientific and commercial roles within the company.
“NC State has taught me to think and do the extraordinary,” she said. “I never would have viewed myself as a leader or a mentor before coming to NC State, but the last five years have shown me that I am capable of anything and gave me the confidence to pursue my dream job.”
Master of Arts in Foreign Languages and Literatures
Born in Madagascar and raised in France, Irina Randriamiadana came to North Carolina after her husband accepted a teaching position in Greenville. After several years as a homemaker, she decided to go back to graduate school to fulfill her childhood dream of becoming a French teacher.
Randriamiadana previously obtained her Master I (Maitrise) in law from the University of Clermont-Ferrand in France. Mialy Rabe, a Malagasy friend and NC State alumnus, encouraged her to apply to the foreign languages and literatures graduate program. When she attended the departmental open house, she was very impressed with the welcoming atmosphere, the research interests of the professors and the diversity of the courses offered.
Randriamiadana eventually chose to focus on French and francophone literature and culture. She was greatly influenced by the richness of the French program and by associate professor and program coordinator Valerie Wust’s mentorship and became a master’s program ambassador to share her experience with prospective students.
“My personal struggle to seek my ‘true’ identity has ignited my desire to focus my research on what has been called by many scholars ‘the French identity crisis,’” she said.
Her research explores how the relationships between food, religion, race, gender, intersectionality, Frenchness and identity are represented in francophone literature, films and plays. In her culminating project, she argued that it is time for France to digest its new multicultural identity and to embrace it, because this reality is mainly the result of its “past” gargantuan colonial appetite.
Balancing graduate studies with other responsibilities as a nontraditional student was a unique situation for Randriamiadana.
“Being a full-time student, a teaching assistant and a mother of two young daughters was challenging,” she said. “Yet, my determination to inspire my children, Fitia and Mia, and my students, gave me the unwavering motivation to push through the most difficult times.”
The COVID-19 pandemic made her situation more difficult, but Randriamiadana was more than equipped to handle what she faced.
“Having to homeschool my children during the pandemic was not easy. Their occasional frustrations and the extra amount of work added to my busy schedule felt overwhelming at times. However, keeping my eyes on my goal and my passion for teaching French and francophone culture kept me motivated. My professors’ flexibility as far as their office hours, my husband’s support, and my students’ enthusiasm and feedback were particularly helpful and encouraging.”
Her desire to be a role model for her daughters and students, as well as the analytical skills she gained during her graduate studies, helped earn her the 2020 Outstanding Graduate Student in French Award and the 2021 university-wide award for Excellence in Classroom Teaching.
“I consider myself lucky to have benefitted from faculty in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, including Valerie Wust, Laura Call and Jeff Allen’s expertise in second language teaching. I am indebted to their constructive feedback, their encouragement and their inspiring devotion to their students,” said Randriamiadana. “I would like to encourage students to not hesitate to reach out to their professors when they need support or guidance. I believe that we would benefit more from being open-minded and from trusting our professors and mentors when they challenge us to accomplish things that seem too challenging at first.”
Now, Randriamiadana has accepted a funding package to continue her graduate studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Staying in the Triangle area will enable her to stay close to NC State, where she was able to start a journey that ended in the realization of her academic goals.
Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education
Teachers set a high bar for service for their dedication to quality education in the face of a global pandemic, from quickly pivoting to online learning, to preparing classrooms for a safe return to in-person instruction.
Emma Wilson is now ready to join their ranks. The elementary education graduate from Hillsborough, N.C., will start substitute teaching in Wake County and hopes to land a permanent position in a local school soon.
“Teachers are some of the most influential people in kids’ lives. We are shaping the future of our world, and we should know how to do that in the most equitable way possible. Every kid deserves a meaningful educational experience, and we need to understand how to provide that to them,” she said.
While Wilson arrived at NC State undecided on her major, she loved the university’s atmosphere from the moment she stepped on campus. She soon found her way to the College of Education, a community of faculty, staff and students dedicated to preparing teachers who inspire children to grow academically and personally.
The college’s emphasis on service equipped Wilson to help others on campus, and she served as an orientation leader and student coordinator for New Student Programs, as well as a College of Education student ambassador. The friendships she formed in the college helped her through a very different year than seniors traditionally experience.
Wilson began the year with Zoom classes and study sessions, which presented difficulties in being able to connect with and receive motivation from fellow students. She was able to complete a portion of her student teaching in person, learning from her 16 elementary-age students while also teaching them. Her commitment to excellence in teaching earned her the honor of Elementary Education Outstanding Senior from the College of Education’s faculty.
“All of my professors at NC State encouraged asking questions as part of the learning process,” she said. “I learned that it is OK to not know everything and to ask for help when you need it. There are always people that are kind and willing to give you advice and a helping hand.”
Of course, all of that hard work came coupled with plenty of good times with friends on campus. Wilson specifically recalls running across campus with no shoes after plans for the Moonlight Howl and Run were derailed by a thunderstorm.
Changes in plans, whether from rain or COVID-19 restrictions, made Wilson flexible, adaptable and ready to reach out and teach the next generation. Her advice for NC State students reflects her personal experience.
“Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone! Being uncomfortable is how you learn and grow as a person. There are so many opportunities at NC State that are right at your fingertips — so get uncomfortable and try something new. Who knows, you may end up loving it!”