Experience Reaps Reward

[ubermenu config_id=”main” menu=”84″] NEWSROOM Experience Reaps RewardFeb 27, 2009 Ryan Going admits he didn’t know anything about engineering when he enrolled at NC State three years ago. He’s learned a lot since then. In October, after he graduates w …

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Experience Reaps Reward

Feb 27, 2009

Ryan Going, Recipient of The Gates Cambridge Scholarship Ryan Going admits he didn’t know anything about engineering when he enrolled at NC State three years ago. He’s learned a lot since then. In October, after he graduates with an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering and applied mathematics, Going will head to Cambridge University to complete a master’s degree in micro- and nanotechnology enterprise.

It’s a remarkable opportunity for the Durham County native, who was one of just 37 American recipients of a highly competitive Gates Cambridge Scholarship this year. The scholarship, which pays the full cost of a master’s or doctorate degree at the British university, was established in 2000 by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Candidates are judged on their intellectual ability, leadership capacity and desire to use their knowledge to contribute to society by applying their talents and knowledge to improve the lives of others.

“I’m really excited,” Going said last week. “I don’t think I’ve processed the news yet.”

The significance wasn’t lost on The News & Observer, which named Going its “Tarheel of the Week” on Sunday.  On campus, faculty and staff members were quick to praise Going for his academic achievements as well as his volunteer work with Amnesty International and Habitat for Humanity.

“It’s a breakthrough step for him,” said Dr. Michael Escuti, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering. “It leads him to an expanded set of professional relationships and deep scientific understanding that he would not be able to access easily otherwise.”

Escuti was one of a handful of faculty, staff and alumni who helped Going navigate the scholarship process, which included a written application and a face-to-face interview with a panel of educators.

Greg Mulholland, who graduated from NC State in 2007 with a degree in electrical and computer engineering, attended Cambridge last year. He and Dr. George Barthalmus, NC State’s director of undergraduate research, conducted a practice interview session with Going to help him prepare for the Gates Cambridge interview.

“I went to Cambridge on almost the exact same topic that Ryan is going to pursue,” Mulholland said. “I could ask questions that only someone who went to Cambridge in the field could ask. Mainly my goal was to make sure he thought about the questions and had the ability to answer them succinctly and appropriately.”

Going’s intense preparation was coordinated by the university’s Office of Fellowship Advising, which maintains an online database of scholarship and fellowship opportunities and helps students successfully compete against students from Ivy League institutions. Jennie LaMonte, who heads up the office, said practice interviews and coaching are important, but they’re just the final polishing at the end of a long process.

“It’s the long-term prep, not this polishing, that is the most critical element,” she said.

Going’s road to the Gates Cambridge Scholarship actually began early in life.

“My introduction to science was a little kid’s chemistry set,” he said. “I never got to blow anything up, but I thought a microscope was the coolest thing in the world. I always liked the more hands-on science.”

That made him perfect match for the North Carolina School of Science and Math, where he completed the last two years of high school, and then NC State, where he developed a love of research.

“My primary area of interest is photonics – using electrical devices and materials to manipulate light,” he explained. “I want to work on the next generation of solar panels.

“I’m particularly interested in using nanotechnology to create nano-sized structures that enable solar panel to absorb more energy from the sun and operate more efficiently.”

For his senior design project, Going developed a prototype of a solar-powered lantern using LED lights. An international organization called “Lighting a Billion Lives” distributes similar lanterns in rural communities in India that aren’t connected to a power grid. Going’s longer-lasting, more efficient LED lanterns could replace existing lanterns that use florescent lights.

Escuti hired Going as an undergraduate research assistant for two years, giving him the opportunity to work closely with the professor and five Ph.D. students. He gained experience working as part of a research team, attending meetings, offering solutions to research problems, and presenting his findings.

The experience paid off.

“He has the potential and capacity to not only be a thinker but an educator and a mentor,” Escuti said. “He is learning to solve real-world problems.”

That’s exactly what Going hopes to do in the years ahead. After he completes his master’s degree at Cambridge, he plans to pursue a Ph.D. at the University of California, Berkeley, and then become a university teacher and researcher.

As he completes his senior year at NC State, Going is thrilled with the doors that have opened to him thanks to the support he’s received at the university.

“Dr. Escuti has been absolutely wonderful,” he said. “He’s a key player in my academic life and research and he’s really helped me grow academically mature. He encouraged me to present at a conference, which I never would have thought to do in a million years. And he helped me get used to writing for scientific journals. That’s why I was competitive with this scholarship. The level of maturity you gain from doing those things puts you at a different level.”

Going has talked with several NC State students who attended Cambridge and he’s clearly excited about the prospect of studying and living at a university that’s been in the forefront of higher education since the 13th century.

“From what I’ve heard, Cambridge is going to be like Disneyland for me,” he said.

Mulholland was similarly enthralled when he attended Cambridge.

“I was running into Nobel laureates,” he said. “I worked in a building where the electron was discovered.”

At the same time, Mulholland says NC State students shouldn’t view universities like Cambridge and Oxford as beyond their reach.

“People from North Carolina see Cambridge as such a far-off place,” he said. “But when I was there I realized that I could work just as hard as any other student. Cambridge is a good place for students from NC State. But NC State is good for Cambridge as well, because NC State produces great students.”

NC State University Featured Stories – February 2009 Original Article

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