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CALSPack Strong: Carly Graves’ Time Well Spent

Carly Graves knows how to make lasting memories.

Just two days after her spring 2021 graduation from NC State University, Graves set out in a tear-drop camper to take in national parks and other sites across the country. She and her boyfriend had built the camper using some of the skills they’d learned as undergraduates in the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering.

And while Graves was a student, she’d accomplished things she’s likely to remember for years to come:

  • She gained hands-on experience in the department’s machine shop and its senior design class. 
  • She learned leadership skills as a club president.
  • She identified an academic and career path.
  • And she won a national accolade, the Yoerger Preprofessional Engineer of the Year from the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE).

The Wake Forest native decided to spend her undergraduate years at NC State because it was what she calls her “dream school,” and she chose BAE because of her interest in environmental sustainability.

“When I came to open houses at State, I found BAE, and I learned there were so many more facets of sustainability that I didn’t really even know that it encompassed – things like air quality, water quality and agricultural sustainability,” Graves said. “I think biological and agricultural engineering is a great balance of doing good for the environment and doing good for people and communities.”

Graves was also lured by the combination of the university’s urban setting and the department’s community feel.

“The people were so friendly and welcoming. I immediately got a sense that the professors were there to really help serve the student,” she said. “BAE is a tight-knit community.”

To share more about her NC State experience and what’s next, Graves stopped in the middle of her road trip, near Breckenridge, Colorado, for a telephone conversation. Here are the highlights:

Which academic experiences were most valuable?

The senior design class was very impactful – having that experience of working in a team. Our team’s project was industry-sponsored, and I thought getting that real-world job experience of having a client you’re working for was impactful.

We worked with AQWA, a company in Wilson that designs and implements wastewater treatment systems for homes – a system like a septic tank. They believed that heating the wastewater could improve the system’s efficiency and increase the amount of wastewater it could treat. Our project added a heating component to the existing system, and we found that a scaled-down version worked in the lab. The company is now going to take the idea and test it out on one of their bigger systems.

Another class gave me some cool hands-on experience in the shop with actually fabricating projects. For engineering, I think it’s important to have not only a conceptual background but real design fabrication. You end up realizing things you wouldn’t have thought of if it was just on paper.

How about extracurricular activities?

My biggest involvement was with the ASABE student chapter, which hosts career fairs and has social and service activities. I was president of the chapter as a junior and senior. As a freshman, I looked up to the people who were running that club. They helped guide my career interests and made me feel welcome.

To be able to cycle up to be one of the people that’s helping younger folks figure out what kind of engineering they’d like to do, to help them be connected to industry and to help figure out what their real interests are – that’s something I am really proud of.

What’s next for you?

I enjoyed my four years at NC State, so I’m sticking around for another two years to get a master’s in the same department. My interests since I’ve been in school shifted from the broad area of sustainability to more specifically waste-to-energy and value-added product streams.

I have also developed a great love for agriculture, even though I didn’t have much of a background in it. My master’s project will be with Mahmoud Sharara. It’s related to animal agriculture and reducing odors and emissions.

Dr. Sharara works in extension (helping people, businesses and communities put research-based knowledge and technology to work). I think I’d really enjoy working in extension, and I hope that by working with him I’ll get a better view into that world and agriculture in general.

With engineering, I enjoy the conceptual and design aspects, but I really think the important part comes with communicating that to people and getting those designs out to the public where they are going to be used. Otherwise, what’s the point? I enjoy working with people, getting to know people and learning new things, so I think I could be successful in an extension career.

This post was originally published in College of Agriculture and Life Sciences News.