Alumni News Category
Ally Amavisca has been fascinated with marine science for most of her life.
Amavisca, who studied marine and coastal resources as a student at NC State, works now as a marine science educator. She leads two programs at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, California.
“I really liked teaching, so I moved to California and started doing education,” Amavisca says.
After graduating from NC State in 2004, Amavisca took a year off before starting law school at UNC. During that time she was also a marine science technician with the U.S. Coast Guard, where she primarily worked with oil spills. She worked for an environmental law firm, but soon decided that education was what she really wanted to do.
“I missed being outdoors,” Amavisca says. “I decided that maybe I didn’t want to do law.”
At the aquarium, Amavisca works with teens in the Student Oceanography Club and the Teen Conservation Leadership program.
The Student Oceanography Club is more-science oriented and allows students to come in and do experiments, hear talks from local scientists, and create conservation projects of their own. The Teen Conservation Leadership program focuses on students learning marine science and leadership through volunteering. These high school students learn leadership skills through activities such as helping families in the touch pools at the aquarium and teaching children how to properly handle the animals.
“It gives me the opportunity to inspire them and teach them to care about the ocean and the environment,” Amavisca says.
Teaching through the programs at the aquarium are not the only ways Amavisca has gotten into education. She gives talks every year to different groups about the importance of oil spill science that she learned about during her time with the Coast Guard.
She also spent three years at the Phoenix Zoo as a programs coordinator and had an opportunity as a part of the Grosvner Teacher Fellow Program with National Geographic to travel to the Arctic Circle and give talks aboard the National Geographic Explorer to other guests.
“I was the only non-formal educator, and I was super privileged to get that experience,” Amavisca says.
The favorite part of her job at the aquarium is working with the kids from the Teen Conservation Leadership program to build confidence and leadership skills.
“It’s so awesome to see the kid at the beginning of the summer who is really shy and unsure of themselves,” Amavisca says. “And then two months later, you see them blossom and have interactions with a family of four and they’re teaching the little kids about the animals.”
Mital Patel always knew he wanted to pursue a career in technology. But the 2005 computer science graduate didn’t know that idea would lead him to a different field of study.
Patel helps local businesses from the ground up at his boutique business law firm in Raleigh. He says he first gained an interest in law while he was on an Alternative Service Break trip to Ecuador during his time at NC State.
“We were doing a reflection on the trip, and I realized I wanted to do something to help other people,” Patel says.
Patel, 30, decided that that “something” was to help small businesses with legal advice, so he attended Elon University School of Law, where he graduated in 2009. Shortly after graduating, he started his law firm, Triangle Business Law, in Raleigh.
Patel jokes that he didn’t want to be too far away from NC State football and basketball. But his main reason for not straying was the technology and startup business he saw growing in Raleigh.
That caused him to want to get involved with the entrepreneurship side of business law. “We always want to be entrepreneurial with the law firm itself,” Patel says. “Providing legal services to growing companies is very different than dealing with companies that aren’t entrepreneurial.”
Some of the areas which Triangle Business Law focuses on are contract review and negotiation, incorporation, and intellectual property law. Having a background in technology has been extremely helpful for Patel when it comes to his clients who are technology or software companies because it allows him to fully understand what they are trying to do with their business.
“We really try to provide the full spectrum for the small companies that just got started yesterday to clients we have that are multinational corporations and have offices all across the world,” Patel says.
Business law is not the only way that Patel is involved in entrepreurship. He is also a leader in Startup North Carolina and many Startup Weekends, seminars that can help new businesses grow, throughout the state. He has traveled all over the world to present at entrepreneurship workshops and even presented on entrepreneurship at the White House in 2013.
“We learned a lot about the way the rest of the world is approaching entrepreneurship,” Patel says, “and we learned a lot of unique points that we took back with us to North Carolina to apply those principles at home and make the best community we can.”
Jason Jefferies grew up finding a story anywhere he could. He consumed comic books daily and saw video games as storytelling devices. That led him to study English and literature. He fell in love with the works of authors such as James Joyce and T.S. Eliot, appreciating the authors as people and reading about their lives.
Jason Jefferies promotes the 2014 N.C. Literary Festival at a radio station.
So it makes complete sense that Jefferies, a former library supervisor at NC State who earned a master’s degree in English in 2008, has a job that’s all about his love of authors.
He’s the programming coordinator for the 2014 N.C. Literary Festival, which kicks off today and runs until Sunday at the James B. Hunt Jr. Library on Centennial Campus.
Jefferies, 33, says that his job consists of securing authors, developing the programs, raising money, handling the press and managing volunteers.
And he is most proud of this year’s festival location: the Hunt Library. In fact, when the festival, which rotates between Duke, UNC-Chapel Hill, North Carolina Central and NC State, was set to come to Raleigh after the 2009 event, organizers postponed it until this year when they knew that the Hunt Library would be open and ready to take center stage.
“The best part of the job is really just coming back to the campus where I received my master’s degree,” says Jefferies. “I’ve been able to work very closely with the creative writing program.”
So how did he decide to bring in literary heavyweights such as Richard Ford and Junot Diaz? You might say Jefferies figured out what was “socially” acceptable. He conducted social media polls and talked to local booksellers.
The choices he made were good ones. The response to the festival has been outstanding and underscores that there are more readers than ever out there.
“Society is more literate,” Jefferies says. “People are reading blogs. And they’re reading and writing more than they were 20 years ago. With the Kindle and other devices, folks are buying books that they normally wouldn’t have.”
Even if you don’t find math the most engaging topic, it’s hard not to appreciate how NC State alumnus Robert Allison uses math to make interactive maps.
With the recent mystery of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight, many people have taken an interest in airplane disappearances. Allison has been interested in airplanes since he was a child because his father was a pilot in the Navy.
Allison, who earned his undergraduate (1987), masters (1990) and doctoral (1996) degrees at NC State, has worked with visual analytics at SAS for over 20 years. He recently developed an interactive map that shows the major unexplained airplane disappearances since 1948.
“NC State is where I learned how to do the graphics and use the SAS software and mapping techniques,” says Allison, who lives in Cary, N.C.
The interactive map he made was based off of one he found while researching the missing airplane on Bloomberg’s website. By downloading a spreadsheet of data from the Aviation Safety Network and using the SAS programming language, he created a new map that contained much more information than the original.
“My goal was just to find a map that I like and make a better version of it,” Allison says. “It’s easy to understand and easy to use.”
Allison focuses on making simple graphics that maximize efficiency. With the map he has created of missing airplanes, researchers could see if there are any trends of which airports these airplanes took off from or make more detailed data sets related to pilot experience or other factors that could have led to these lost airplanes.
“We could potentially utilize some of SAS’ analytic capabilities to help find the missing plane,” he says. “For example, they found 122 pieces of debris in satellite photos that might be from the missing plane – we could use SAS/OR (Operations Research) to optimize the order in which they investigate these 122 pieces, so that they do that in the shortest distance & time.”
Making maps is not new for Allison, but he still enjoys making them for their interactivity and potential for data analysis. Allison has created hundreds of maps and graphics, including maps that track the flu epidemic in California, show the debris from a space shuttle explosion and track iPhone versus Android phone usage by state.
“I’m currently working on a map to try to show all the known information about the missing Flight 370 on one single map,” Allison says.
These maps have the potential to help solve the mystery behind missing airplanes. Allison hopes that future efforts will be made with SAS technology to further this research and find out why some of these disappearances happen.
Chris Wimberley spent his childhood dreaming up songs in his head.
And though he didn’t go on to win a Grammy, he now helps artists get their own songs out of their heads and recorded for anyone to listen to as a producer and mixing engineer at Carrboro’s Nightsound Studios. He opened the studio in 2001.
“I’ve been writing songs since I was seven, and having greater control over those songs was originally something I wanted to do for me, but I get just as much, if not more, from helping other people with their songs,” says Wimberley, who graduated from NC State with an arts application degree in 2000.
During college, Wimberley had an apprenticeship at a local recording studio in Raleigh. He also had a mentor, Rodney Waschka, an NC State music professor, who became one of Wimberley’s first clients at Nightsound Studios.
Some larger music recording studios tend to be expensive, and sometimes artists do not get the personal attention they crave. But at Nightsound, Wimberley, 37, has created a place to redefine the music studios of the past and make them more community-based and affordable for anyone who wants to record a song.
“Nightsound has a creative atmosphere, and it’s a community resource,” Wimberley says. “We’re able to accommodate all of these very talented clients from all different kinds of music.”
Wimberley said that the studio has as many as five clients in one day. Musicians recording their music at Nightsound are of various experience levels and have different goals for their music. The staff members at Nightsound help with every step in the process to make sure that the song each client composes is recorded just like they want it.
Engineer Geneva Walata , left, and producer/ engineer Chris Wimberley, right.
“This place is really accepting and open to everyone,” says Geneva Walata, an apprentice at Nightsound and sophomore at NC State.
The variety of genres recorded at Nightsound make for a diverse culture within the studio. This diversity was a primary factor when Wimberley chose Carrboro for the location. “This town is one of the most artistic, creative, twilight-zone wonderlands that you could have an artistic business in,” Wimberley says. “ It’s just perfect for that stuff.”
Some of the artists who have worked with Nightsound are Morning Brigade, Davis Coen, Future Kings of Nowhere and Chase Rice – all from different genres, ranging from country to indie rock. “Expanding and redefining what a recording studio is for all these diverse and talented artists is still a challenge,” says Wimberley, “but it’s definitely a job that I love.”
It used to be that job seekers didn’t need to worry about how they looked until they visited a company for a job interview or made the rounds at a career fair.
But like many other facets of life today, the hunt for a job now often takes place online. And that means that people looking for a job – or to switch jobs – need to be mindful of how they present themselves online.
“The hiring process has changed,” says Fiquet Swain, a 2000 graduate of NC State’s College of Design. “The first thing you do now is go online and go behind the scenes and check the person out.”
As the owner of Luxe Apothecary, a Raleigh beauty store, Swain knows a lot about helping women make a good first impression. So she has teamed up with another NC State alumna, photographer Lindsey Williams, to help other Wolfpack women who may be in the job market.
Swain and Williams are the speakers at an upcoming workshop hosted by the Alumni Association’s Career Services office and the Wake County Alumni Network. They will provide advice on how to best apply makeup for professional photos that can then be used on online sites such as LinkedIn. Williams will also talk about how to plan your wardrobe to get the best photo.
Attendees at the workshop will be entered for the chance to win a professional makeover by Swain and a photo shoot by Williams. The workshop will be held at Luxe Apothecary at 4209 Lassiter Mill Road in Raleigh. The cost is $10 for Alumni Association members and $15 for nonmembers. Registration is required.
“I do makeup for a living,” Swain says. “I know what photographs well. Like it or not, it’s now a big part of the hiring process and networking.”
Swain says that some women make the mistake of thinking that they won’t look professional if they use makeup.
“There’s nothing wrong with looking great,” she says. “People have progressed to the point that they can be attractive and serious. They are not going to be looking like they are going to a nightclub. It’s all a balance and about looking your best.”
Williams, a 2007 graduate of the College of Design, does portrait, wedding and equine photography. She welcomed the chance to give back to NC State and its alumni.
“It’s a great way to help women out, to give them something professional they can use,” Williams says. “I want to help people get the photo that they need, so they can have a professional look.”
Sometimes, it turns out, a baseball field can be too perfect. Or so Kevin Clark found out when he tried to help a group of African-American and Latino students at at an inner-city school in Washington, D.C., learn math and science by playing educational video games.
Clark, director of the Center for Digital Media Innovation and Diversity at George Mason University, had provided the kids with a template for a video game that used baseball to teach math and science. But something was wrong with Clark’s virtual baseball field.
“They asked me who plays baseball in a place like this?” Clark recalls. “The template I provided them was perfect. It was nicely groomed. It was a suburban field. But for them, it wasn’t their reality. They were empowered to change it, to make it their own.”
Clark, who earned an undergraduate degree (1989) and master’s degree (1991) in computer science at NC State, had no problem accepting that his baseball field didn’t make sense to the students. What mattered to Clark was that the students could use the game’s template to change the field to fit their own reality — and hopefully gain some ownership of the technology in the process.
“The primary issue is changing their mind from one of thinking, ‘You have to use what you’re handed,’ to ‘You can create what you need and make it so it solves your problems,’” he says.
That approach, part of Clark’s larger effort to attract a more diverse group of students to the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) disciplines, was recognized by the White House earlier this month when Clark was named a Champion of Change.
“I was surprised,” Clark says. “I was humbled and appreciative. I like to go quietly about my business. But it has definitely shined the light on the type of work I do, which is good.”
As a professor in George Mason’s College of Education and Human Development, Clark oversees the Center for Digital Media Innovation and Diversity. Clark describes the center as a virtual organization that connects a half dozen professors at George Mason with faculty around the country involved in efforts to use technology to get more minority children and girls interested in STEM disciplines, areas that have traditionally been dominated by white males.
The center is involved in research and outreach, looking for opportunities to increase access to STEM education. One of the center’s initiatives has been to create a national database of summer camps and after-school programs that focus on science and technology, making it easier for parents to find opportunities to expose their children to such programs.
At the center of much of what the center does is Clark’s belief that students need to become creators of technology, not just consumers of technology.
“I want to have students learn how to make stuff,” he says. “When you teach students how to build technology, they become in control of that technology. It’s a much more powerful approach.”
Getting fresh, local produce can be a hassle in big cities. Ben Greene, who earned a master’s in industrial design at NC State in 2009, is trying to change that with something called the Farmery.
Greene first had the concept when he was studying for a master’s degree in industrial design at NC State that he received in 2009. He wanted to solve the problem of being able to buy local food in an urban area without having to drive to two different places for grocery shopping.
“I wanted to choose a field that hadn’t really been touched, and that was agriculture,” says Greene.
Greene brought together the farm and the retail grocery store to create a unique shopping experience that he calls the Farmery. The Farmery has three main parts: the farm, the grocery and the café. Some of the produce sold at the Farmery is grown within the facility, reducing packaging and transportation costs while providing the freshest possible produce to customers.
“Growing the produce right there in the shipment containers reduces spoilage and allows for more consistent crops,” says Greene.
One of the main crops grown at the Farmery are gourmet mushrooms, which can be expensive in retail stores and have a short shelf-life. Other crops grown at the Farmery include lettuce, strawberries and other greens.
Along with its unique concept, the Farmery had a unique way of raising money to get started. Greene used Kickstarter to raise $25,000 to fund the initial building, called the Mini-Farmery. Originally built in Clayton, N.C., and moved to Durham, N.C., to open in July of 2013, the Mini-Farmery can now be visited at Raleigh City Farm.
“We’re talking to people about getting the full-scale model,” says Greene. “We plan to start construction this fall and finish it in winter 2015.”
Greene’s main goal with the Farmery is to redefine what a grocery store is in urban areas. With an increased focus on local foods in cities, the Farmery provides a new standard for what a grocery store focused on local food should look like.
“Especially in the South, people are moving to bigger cities, and we want to be the retailer that takes advantage of that by providing local food for these urban markets,” says Greene. “The food is healthy, it’s good, and it’s all in one place.”
Given her name, it’s fitting that Snow Roberts found the inspiration to pursue adventure travel on trip in the scenic landscape of Alaska.
It was 2000 and she had just finished her master’s degree in parks, recreation and tourism management at NC State. The sense of accomplishment she felt from completing her graduate studies blended with the phenomenal backdrop of Prince William Sound to give her a feeling she longed to experience outside of a crammed office and 9-to-5 life. She kayaked for the first time. She battled the chill of the sound’s icy waters.
And Roberts, who now organizes trips for her Blue Highway Adventures, walked away changed.
“It was a very natural experience that fueled me for other trips,” she says. “I want to make every trip like that one. Just very unique.”
Roberts says she was also inspired to pursue a profession in adventure travel from the time in her youth she spent going to camps and forming bonds in small groups. She went to camps around North Carolina and even went on a three-week camping trip to California.
“I was just immersed in that experience where you meet an entire new group of people in a cabin,” she says. “You can forge great relationships that way. …I took this group of friendships that were formed through those experiences, and they stood the test of time.”
Snow Roberts at Bryce Canyon, Utah.
After graduate school at NC State, she worked for Broadreach, a company that sends kids on educational adventures around the world, for roughly 11 years. Then in 2013 she began Blue Highway Adventures on her own.
She’s now gearing up for a summer of trips that will send participants to exotic locales and incorporate crossfit training. But she’s finding that the business side of things offers her a new education and that doing her own marketing, web design and legal paperwork is far away from a bike ride through Holland or hike in Peru.
“There’s whole side of things not necessarily in my wheelhouse, and I’m having so much fun learning about it,” says Roberts, who explains the genesis of her first name is actually a family hand-me-down and a marketing coup. “It’s so unique. It serves me great in the travel adventure industry.”
Having lived in Traverse City, Michigan, for 22 years, John Flesher is accustomed to snow and cold weather by now.
But even he couldn’t help but feel a sense of awe at what Mother Nature did this winter — almost completely covering the Great Lakes with ice. Flesher, a correspondent for The Associated Press, wrote an article last month about ice covering nearly 90 percent of the Great Lakes, the first time that has happened since 1994.
John Flesher on frozen Lake Michigan
“It’s unusual for the entire surface area of the lakes to freeze over,” says Flesher, a 1980 NC State graduate who was editor of the Technician. “That just doesn’t happen. In order to have significant parts of the lake freeze over, it has to be really cold for a good period of time.”
And that’s what happened this winter, which has seen the Midwest and other sections of the country repeatedly get blasted with snow, ice and freezing temperatures.
For people who live and work around the Great Lakes, such drastic winter weather has created hardships and opportunities. In his article for The Associated Press, Flesher wrote about thousands of people taking advantage of Lake Superior being frozen over to explore caves with “dazzling ice formations.” But he also wrote about the challenges the ice presented for the crew of the Coast Guard cutter Mackinaw trying to clear paths on Lake Huron for vessels carrying essential cargo such as heating oil. The local newspaper in Traverse City recently had a photo on the front page, Flesher says, of joggers running eight miles across the frozen Traverse Bay.
“It’s just an illustration that nature is very powerful,” he says. “It has a real effect on the economy and our way of life. When these extremes come along, people simply have to cope with it.”