We are WE Keynote Speaker outlines her unique path to a successful research career.
Dr. Nina Stark delivered a high energy, often humorous, and engaging keynote speech at the 2017 We are WE event in early March. Stark, an assistant professor in Geotechnical Engineering at Virginia Tech, shared stories of her coastal and marine research endeavors, which have taken her to the bottom of the sea floor in submersibles, to work in the North Sea to locate abandoned World War II mines, and to the arctic tundra of Canada’s Herschel Island to examine the effects of rising sea levels on sediment.
Stark grew up in Germany and her path to geotechnical research was anything but traditional. As a teenager, she was a champion equestrian, then became a lauded physical therapist for horses. After beginning university studies in Comparative Literature, Philosophy and Spanish, she realized she wasn’t engaged in the material and switched to Geophysics. In 2007, she seized the opportunity to conduct deep-sea research, and after spending several weeks at sea on a naval research ship, she knew she’d found her calling. Ten years later she’s still passionate about her oceanography-related research, which continues to take her around the globe.
Her take-home messages for the young female engineering students? Find what you are passionate about, and understand the importance of getting your research findings published. Stark also emphasized the value of networking, attending conferences, and finding collaborators that you enjoy working with.
The We are WE event was started in 2012 by a group of female professors in the CCEE department and is held each Spring to coincide with CCEE’s annual graduate recruiting event. We are WE brings female engineering students with an interest in research to NCSU for a chance to learn about graduate school, network, and meet CCEE faculty and graduate students. “This year we had 25 applications from students around the country,” Dr. Emily Berglund explains. “We were able to offer attendance to fifteen. The department covers the travel costs so that we get the chance to recruit women into our graduate program.” Berglund says another goal of the event is to provide role models for young female engineering students.
The two-day event includes workshops, campus tours, and meetings with professors and current graduate students. It also includes attendance to research symposia including the department’s annual EWC symposium held on Centennial Campus. This large symposium featured more than 50 research posters from the Environmental, Water, and Coastal research graduate students. For those visitors whose interests are in the Geotechnical, Transportation, Structures or Materials concentrations, there was a tour of the Constructed Facilities Lab on Centennial Campus, as well as an additional presentation by Dr. Stark, and research posters presented from current CCEE Masters and Ph.D students.
Sonja Pape is a third-year CCEE Ph.D. student whose research focuses on improving testing methods for asphalt, and recycling asphalt. “When I came here for the We are WE program in 2014, I was being actively recruited by two other leading civil engineering schools. We are WE put NC State on similar footing with the other schools. I had met Dr. Cassie Castorena at a conference earlier that year and was interested in working with her. Being on campus for those two days gave me a chance to meet one-on-one with her, and to connect with her other students at the time. Afterwards, I knew I wanted to come to NC State.”