Nearly 6,500 students took a leap forward into the next chapter of their lives at NC State’s spring commencement on May 7. Many of these new graduates excelled in their chosen major, but also crossed disciplinary boundaries in their learning and research.
Interdisciplinary education impacted their academic path and future career in a unique way. Now, they’re ready to take this approach to solving some of society’s greatest challenges. Two recent graduates share what they learned through their interdisciplinary journey at NC State, and where they’re headed next.
Bachelor of Science, Textile Engineering
Minor, Industrial Engineering
Marissa Noon is one of those graduates. Noon, a textile engineering major with a minor in industrial engineering, started her journey to graduation seeking adventure in a new city. The Knoxville, Tennessee, native chose NC State for its nationally-recognized engineering program, and quickly found herself at home.
She spent her academic career pursuing undergraduate research opportunities, gaining valuable hands-on experience with textiles and exploring her interest in implementing electronic components into clothing. Venturing into other academic areas, Noon became involved with and eventually served as president of the Entrepreneurship Student Ambassador Program.
Noon credits being an Ambassador with increasing and strengthening her communication and outreach skills. She learned to be a liaison between the entrepreneurship community and students on campus who are interested in all things entrepreneurship. This interdisciplinary experience helped her become the well-rounded student and future professional that she is today.
Noon strongly recommends that students look into getting involved in undergraduate research. “If there is something that you want to do, ask your professors to help you find a faculty member who is doing research. Never be afraid to ask for help. Everyone wants you to succeed!” Those she credits with helping her along this journey include faculty in the Department of Textile Engineering, Chemistry and Science: Jeff Joines, department head and professor; Jesse Jur, professor and textile technology program director; and Amanda Mills, laboratory manager; along with Caitlin Knowles, a Ph.D. student in fiber and polymer science.
Of course, like many NC State students, Noon’s campus involvement extended beyond classroom walls and into the greater community. She served as a Young Life College leader for nearly three years, pouring her time into serving as a role model and mentoring high school students.
“Interdisciplinary education is important to me because you never want to be the smartest person in the room — you want to constantly be gaining knowledge and growing” said Noon. “Interdisciplinary learning gets you out of your comfort zone and you are able to learn new skills, while also polishing old skills.”
Noon knows that with NC State’s challenging academics, taking care of yourself is one of the most important keys to getting through and finishing college well. You can’t always do everything, but you can get involved on campus, pursue an education that crosses disciplinary boundaries and succeed.
So what’s next for Noon? She’s searching for a position to put her interdisciplinary knowledge and skills to good use, and is considering returning to NC State to earn a master’s degree in textile engineering.
Regardless of where her path leads, she’s ready for a new adventure.
“NC State has given me tools to be successful,” she said. “This school’s community has shown that they are here for me and rooting for me to be as successful as possible. I have learned leadership through my interdisciplinary and extracurricular activities, and most importantly, I learned to be open to change, and what is meant for you will be.”
Lastly, being an ambassador has increased my communication skills and outreach skills. I have learned to be a liaison between the entrepreneurship community and students on campus who are interested in all things entrepreneurship. If I didn’t have interdisciplinary experience, I would not be as well-rounded as I am today.
Bachelor of Science, Mathematics; Bachelor of Science, Statistics
Choosing NC State just seemed to add up for Hang Nguyen. Born in Hanoi, Vietnam, Nguyen moved to Cary when she was 14. She chose to become part of the Wolfpack because NC State offered the most affordable education, with a great Department of Mathematics that was welcoming, modern and organized. Nguyen knew she also wanted to multiply her efforts by pursuing a second major in statistics, and NC State boasts one of the best Department of Statistics in the country.
While pursuing an impressive, well-rounded academic career, Nguyen took part in the University Honors Program and the Mathematics Honors Program. She also worked as a biostatistics researcher for the Center for Research in Scientific Computation at NC State for three years, was involved with the Society of Undergraduate Mathematics, the Statistics Club, the Undergraduate Research Club and Le Cercle Français.
From the summer before her sophomore year up to graduation, Nguyen’s work with the Center for Research in Scientific Computation was part of an interdisciplinary project to model population dynamics of the oriental fruit fly and a parasitoid for biological control in Senegal. She was guided by researchers from NC State, California State University, Monterey Bay, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
This project not only connected her knowledge of math, statistics and biology, but was also culturally interdisciplinary as she applied her French minor in reading documents from collaborators and communicating with colleagues in Senegal. She ended up presenting her research results at the Entomological Society of America in April 2021 and at the Undergraduate Research Symposium as her capstone project for the University Honors Program in April 2022.
She also explored statistics applications in the social sciences during a practicum class in spring 2021 called Statistics in Practice. There, Nguyen collaborated with other undergraduates to build and compare regression models using demographic and college variables that predict transfer students’ graduation rates at a large institution and the effect of transfer shock on first-term GPA. From this class, she learned to apply abstract concepts to real data and communicate results to non-statistics stakeholders. In April 2021, she presented a research poster at the Undergraduate Research Symposium with her group.
“Interdisciplinary involvement characterized a large part of my undergraduate career. I always wanted to be a person that leaves an impact on the community, but I also know that I will not be a businessman or a politician,” said Nguyen. “Being in interdisciplinary research has opened my eyes to using statistics skills to affect programs or policies that improve the way of life. Through these projects, I also gained an appreciation of and knowledge in other fields, especially the humanities and social sciences. These experiences inspired me to seek out academic opportunities during and after my undergraduate career that cultivate knowledge in culturally interdisciplinary research as well as in math and statistics.”
A student of many talents, Nguyen also volunteered as a Country and Culture Ambassador with the Office of International Services and as a Study Abroad Orientation Leader with the Study Abroad Office. She participated in the Developing Cultural Competence certificate program and was a facilitator with the Campus Conversations Project.
Emily Griffith, an associate research professor in the Department of Statistics, served as the research advisor for Nguyen’s practicum class, and was the professor who inspired Nguyen to explore applications that mix statistics with meteorology, social science and public health. “She was also incredibly supportive of my pursuit of higher education in graduate school, and believed in my potential even when I did not,” said Nguyen.
Because of her academic excellence, combined with the support of faculty like Griffith, Nguyen will attend the University of Virginia in the fall for a fully-funded Ph.D. in statistics.
“An interdisciplinary education is very important to me because just like people, no discipline is an island,” said Nguyen. “Just about everything we do in the real world requires collaboration with experts from other fields, from engineering to the humanities. I believe that only by working with each other effectively, we can successfully build cities or make life-saving cures. An interdisciplinary education trains students to be open-minded, creative, and resourceful, and encourages people to work together in preparing them for the real world.”
Nguyen also credits NC State with teaching her how to conduct research, equipping her with the necessary technical knowledge to succeed, and making her a better global citizen who can see the interconnectedness of society and find ways to utilize it to benefit underrepresented populations.
“During my time here I have found wonderful friends and professors who inspired and pushed me to be the best version of myself while supporting me through the highs and lows,” she said. “I leave NC State a more confident woman who is passionate to apply the Think and Do principle to make this world a better place.”