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Graduation Stories

Finding a future: How a knee injury made one senior’s path clear

Lynne Dale dressed in red graduation cap and gown with fall trees and leaves in the background.

Like many students with a love for math and science, Lynne Dale, materials science and engineering ‘22, always knew she wanted to become an engineer, but what type of engineer was a big question for her.

It ended up being a knee injury that helped Dale find her answer. Following a surgery that used a cadaver tendon to reconstruct her patellar tendon, she realized she wanted to pursue a career in biomaterials and engineering to ensure medical staff always have the necessary tools to provide patients the care they need.

Undergoing surgery and the lightbulb moment

During her early high school years in Circleville, Ohio, Dale competed in gymnastics. However, after dislocating her knee twice, Dale decided to take up pole vaulting and golfing. All the while, she was planning for her future.

“I knew I wanted to be an engineer,” Dale said. “I also knew I wanted to leave Ohio. I was interested in NC State because of the programs and location. Knowing all the opportunities that were in Raleigh after graduation, I thought it was somewhere I might want to be.”

When Dale’s knee took a turn for the worse in 2017 during her sophomore year of high school, she decided to pursue surgery for a patellar tendon reconstruction. Dale would need to make one more tough decision: to use her own tendon or a donor’s.

“I knew my own would require a longer recovery, so I thought the donor option would be awesome,” Dale said.

Following surgery, it was difficult for Dale to maneuver as she once could. It took six months of extensive physical therapy and working with the school personal trainer for her to be ready for the upcoming track season. The experience had Dale wondering, what if there hadn’t been a donor tendon available?

“After some thinking, I knew I wanted to get involved in biomaterials to create artificial tendons and ligaments along with implants or medical devices to help people just in case donors aren’t readily available,” Dale said.

Growing in MSE

During her first semester at NC State, as Dale was deciding how to pursue her goal, she was introduced to the Department of Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) and its concentration in biomaterials. After further investigation, Dale knew she found where she belonged.

“It caught my eye,” she said. “The classes really aligned with what I wanted to do and the smaller classes felt like I was back home in my small town where I knew everyone.”

Dale was invested in her classes. Her favorites taught her about the different types and applications of biomaterials in medical and clinical settings and introduced her to the thermodynamics of biomaterials.

Outside of class, Dale made many fond memories, from 3D printing a miniature Big Ben tower for a holiday gift exchange at the Engineering Village to rushing the field at Carter-Finley Stadium after the NC State football team defeated No. 9 Clemson University in double overtime in 2021.

While she lived off campus her last year of undergrad with three friends from the Engineering Village, Dale’s journey with the living-and-learning communities continued as she mentored underclassmen navigating their own journeys through guidance on course schedules, defining career paths and more.

“Experiences at the Engineering Village helped me answer important questions and make close friendships, so I wanted to give back,” Dale said.

Lynne Dale dressed in red graduation cap and gown with fall trees and leaves in the background.

Beyond Centennial Campus

Dale’s first opportunity to help people in her field of interest was at SunStone Lab, a prosthetics fabrication facility, as a prosthetic technician where she used 3D printers to create custom prosthetics. The following year, she was hired on as a manufacturing operations support intern at Merck, a pharmaceutical company, supporting projects such as improving aseptic product manufacturing.

“Working at SunStone Lab solidified my desire to help people through engineering, and then my internship with Merck made me realize I wanted to do so as a process engineer,” Dale said.

With graduation on the horizon, Dale is sad to see her student days behind her, but with a full-time job offer from Merck as a process engineer in the deviation management division, she is optimistic about the future and looking forward to seeing how she will make a difference. “I want to be someone people can look up to and trust with important decisions to help change the lives of others for the better,” she said. “And I’m excited to do that through engineering and medicine.”