Len Habas, immediate past president of the NC State Engineering Foundation, received several nods of agreement from the faces in the audience.
Opening the College’s 2017 homecoming program on NC State’s Centennial Campus, Habas recalled the message he received from an engineering faculty member as an engineering freshman in 1962.
“Look to your left and look to your right,” the familiar refrain went. “Those two students won’t finish their engineering degree.
“It’s not that way anymore,” Habas told the audience of engineering alumni and their family members. “Now it’s a collaboration among the students, the faculty and the University as a whole.”
Each year during the University’s homecoming weekend, engineering graduates are invited to a Friday lunch and presentation to catch up with classmates and see the progress the College has made and the cooperative atmosphere that the College strives for.
After hearing from Habas, the audience met Christina Hammock Koch. An NC State electrical engineering bachelor’s and master’s alumna, Koch is a NASA astronaut from the class of 2013 currently assigned to the International Space Station (ISS) Crew Operations Branch.
As an astronaut, she has gone through wilderness survival school and military flight school. She has trained in a weightless environment, has become fluent in Russian and has served as a capsule communicator (the crew member back on Earth talking to astronauts in space).
Training for a spot on the ISS or even a trip to Mars has been rigorous, Koch said, and has included learning how to eat in a weightless environment and how to fix a space toilet. A six-hour simulated spacewalk provided a particularly memorable challenge in a life that’s been full of them.
“This by far is the most mentally and physically challenging task,” she said.
Next, Rahul Kathard and Michelle Lishner of the NC State student chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB) gave the audience a peek inside the group’s work improving the lives of people in Sierra Leone and Guatemala.
The non-profit, humanitarian organization has 17,000 members impacting 3.1 million people around the world. The group is focused on sustainable development through community-led change. EWB volunteers work on infrastructure projects that local residents have identified as a need and that they can take ownership of.
At NC State, EWB volunteers are working on water supply and renewable energy projects for a school in Sierra Leone and a water supply project for a remote community in central Guatemala.
Dean Louis Martin-Vega wrapped up the program with an overview presentation on the current state of the College. As he ticked off achievements in rankings, research expenditures, growth and faculty hiring, the theme of collaboration Habas talked about shone through. NC State Engineering is a place where students, faculty and staff all work together to make themselves, and the College, the very best that they can be.
“It’s a very big College that tries very hard to be personal,” Martin-Vega said.