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Focused on the Future

A student in a red cap and gown makes the Wolfpack sign in front of the NC State Belltower.

At NC State, we encourage everyone to think and do the extraordinary. This year’s fall graduates did just that — and show no signs of stopping. Each student found their own path, but they all include receiving their degrees at this December’s commencement ceremonies.

As our fall graduates launch their futures, we spoke to four of them about their journeys at NC State and the one that lies ahead.

Georgia Burgess: Merging Engineering and Health Care

Georgia Burgess has accomplished many things at NC State. She’s a Park Scholar and an ambassador for the Edward P. Fitts Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISE) department, and she served as the director for the 2020 Krispy Kreme Challenge, to name a few. But the driving force behind her success is her commitment to showing up for others.

“Investment in humanity is one of the most important things that anyone can do,” she says. “It creates this really positive cycle — whenever you put time into people, people are able to put time into other people.”

This service-first mentality has characterized Burgess’ time at NC State.

In the summer of 2018, she participated in the Ulman Cancer Fund’s 4K for Cancer. She ran from San Francisco to New York with a team of 21 people, stopping to volunteer at cancer centers along the way. At the centers, she spent time learning about the patients’ lives and their aspirations both before and after their hospitalization.

The experience solidified her interest in working in the health care field. “The coolest thing that I think doctors do is giving people the ability to go and live their lives,” she said.

More recently, she worked with the PackVax on-campus vaccination clinics. Her role consisted of converting the information provided by health systems-focused ISE faculty and the director of Student Health Services, Dr. Julie Casani, into mathematical models to reduce wait times. The experience taught her that engineers and health care professionals “speak two different languages.”

Burgess’ goal is to apply engineering problem-solving to health care challenges.

“I really love patient care and engineering, and I love being able to bridge them to make it so that health care is more accessible and equal among all people in the U.S.,” she said.

After graduation, Burgess plans to work as a medical assistant at a family practice in Cary, North Carolina, before applying to medical school. She was initially uncertain about straying from a more traditional engineering path, but was met with nothing but support from faculty, staff and peers.

“The thing about NC State that I love so much is that everyone here really does care about you,” she said. “If there is something you’re interested in regardless of how obscure, someone here is doing it or someone here can point you to someone that’s doing it. Everyone wants to see you pursue your own passions.”

Marcilla Demry: Graduating With More Than a Degree

Marcilla Demry’s journey to NC State began in middle school. After participating in the North Carolina Mathematics and Science Education Network Pre-College Program, she knew she wanted to attend the university.

When she arrived on campus, the first-generation college student was impressed by NC State’s affordability and welcoming culture. She struggled with imposter syndrome at first, but she easily found mentors and programs to help her adjust to college.

After a semester in the Poole College of Management, Demry realized she wanted to switch to a major that allowed her to “work more on helping people.” She’d never heard of the social work major before coming to NC State, but after taking an introductory course, she knew she belonged at the School of Social Work.

But Demry will be leaving NC State with so much more than a degree. The most memorable part of her time at NC State has been the people she’s connected with.

As part of her degree requirements, she took an internship at the Women’s Center. Her primary responsibility involved developing the curriculum and hands-on activities for the Women of Color Retreat, an annual two-day conference that brings together undergraduate and graduate women from the NC State community. She also served as a facilitator for the 2021 retreat, which allowed her to connect with fellow students.

Through her internship, Demry has been able to develop her leadership skills and use them to create change for a greater purpose.

“NC State has given me the tools to do that,” she said.

She has also learned that prioritizing her own needs is the key to success. She credits her supervisor, Bri Elum, the assistant director of the Women’s Center, with teaching her the importance of self-care.

“Self-care is not just a bubble bath or reading a book. It’s doing your laundry. Putting on clean clothes. Not working through lunch. Self-care is setting boundaries. And (Elum) really taught me that over the course of my internship,” said Demry.

Ultimately, her goal is to work in policy and advocacy around structural inequity. She’s looking into working in the education or nonprofit sector after graduation for now, but she plans to get a master’s in social work later on. 

“NC State may see me returning in a couple of years,” she said.

As for students who are coming to NC State for the first time, she encourages them to think about what they bring to the campus.

“You got into NC State for a reason, so you’ve got some skills or some knowledge or some values that are important to this campus. Share them with fellow NC State students, professors, other people on campus and the community.”

Andrew and Ryan Bennison: Brothers, Classmates and Friends

Andrew and Ryan Bennison each found their own path at NC State — and often those paths lined up.

The twin brothers from Raleigh didn’t set out to go to the same college, but they both decided NC State would be the best place to pursue their interests in STEM.

“We were thinking individually about what would be best for us,” Ryan said. “I knew NC State was a really strong STEM school, so once I decided I was interested in engineering it was a natural choice.”

Ryan and Andrew Bennison outside Fitts-Woolard Hall, with the Hunt Library in the background
Ryan (left) and Andrew Bennison

“We came to both our school and major decisions separately, but they ended up being the same ones,” Andrew said.

Both brothers enrolled in the College of Engineering. Each started out in a different area of the college, but by the end of their first year, both had changed their major to computer science.

“The problem-solving aspect of computer science is so rewarding,” Andrew said. “It’s something I had studied some in high school, and I kept coming back to it.”

“There’s a creative side to computer science that I love,” Ryan said. “It’s something I can do and also like to do, and it’s a field that offers lots of career opportunities.”

Over the years, they have shared classes and study sessions. They have also participated in some of the same activities outside of class, both running with NC State’s cross-country club, playing intramural kickball, working for local ice cream shop Two Roosters and mentoring high schoolers through the youth ministry at Providence Church in Raleigh. Now, they’re sharing a December 2021 graduation ceremony.

“NC State is such a great place with a lot to experience, and we’ve both been able to pursue our interests and establish a strong community here,” Andrew said.

After graduation, Andrew will be a software engineer at Fidelity Investments, where he interned last summer and where his older brother also works. Ryan is still considering a few job offers. Wherever their paths take them next, both are glad to have gotten to experience college with each other.

“Andrew just gets what I’m saying, even when nobody else would, and it’s helped so much when we’re trying to work on projects together,” Ryan said.

“We’re lucky that we get along so well and have a lot of the same interests,” Andrew said. “It’s nice to have a really good friend who has shared many of the same experiences I have.”

More Graduate Stories

This post was originally published in NC State News.