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Goodnight Spotlight: Kerrington Shade

Amid her many accomplishments at NC State, Kerrington Shade ’21 holds “overcoming the challenges of and uncertainties of switching [majors] to an unfamiliar field of study” among the highest. Originally an Applied Mathematics major, Kerrington switched into the Mechanical Engineering program with the goal of working on real-world applications through the mathematical lenses that she has grown to appreciate.

Read our latest spotlight to learn more about Kerrington, her leadership within the Goodnight Scholars Program, undergraduate research experiences, and her advice for how to increase representation within the NC State and engineering communities to allow for a more inclusive learning experience.

Goodnight Scholars Program: Tell me about yourself and your journey into the Goodnight Scholars Program

At a young age, I fell in love with the challenge of solving mathematical problems. Naturally, when applying to NC State, I knew that I wanted to continue learning about the wonders of mathematics and its capabilities in describing the world around us. Thus, I chose Applied Mathematics as my academic major. During the Finalist Interview Day for the Goodnight Scholars Program, I sat in front of my two interviewers and expressed how excited I was to learn the applications of mathematics and how said understanding can be used to solve real-world problems. This was the turning point of my college career as it provided me the opportunity of being a part of the Goodnight Scholars Program. 

Throughout my academic journey, I learned that my existing academic major wasn’t as I expected; therefore, I changed my major to Mechanical Engineering. Although this was a pivotal moment within my undergraduate career, the experiences I had through the leadership roles within the Goodnight Scholars Program affirmed I had made the right decision in changing my course of study. For instance, being a participant and Trip Leader of the M2C trip allowed me to present STEM activities to students from an engineering perspective. Additionally, being a Goodnight Mentor as an engineering student allowed me to better connect with my mentees and advise on how to approach engineering classes.

What is your major? What made you want to pursue this field?

My major is Mechanical Engineering with a Mathematics minor. As aforementioned, I didn’t initially choose to major in Mechanical Engineering upon acceptance to NC State. Because I wanted to learn how to utilize mathematics as it relates to real-world applications, my advisor encouraged me to consider engineering. After much thought, I decided to apply to three engineering programs: Biomedical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, and Aerospace Engineering and wait for acceptance into any of the three. The Mechanical Engineering program accepted my application and, overall, I’ve been enjoying my major thus far. Mechanical engineering provides me the opportunity to view the world through mathematical lenses which I have grown to appreciate.

What have been some of your biggest accomplishments during your time at NC State? What have you enjoyed or found success in?

I believe overcoming the challenges and uncertainties of switching my major to an unfamiliar field of study is one of my biggest accomplishments. This process was mentally and emotionally taxing –  I was overcome by imposter syndrome along with a lack of confidence within my new major. However, the experience pushed me to be a better student and I gained more confidence in myself and my abilities. Additionally, conducting undergraduate research in qualitative and quantitative modeling of biological structures is another experience that I am proud of, specifically because this research had no correlation to my academic expertise. This experience allowed me to explore my interests in other scientific fields that I had not previously considered. It also taught me the importance of taking risks even if I am unaware of what to expect. Moreover, having the opportunity to hold multiple leadership positions within the Goodnight Scholars Program has been one of my most rewarding accomplishments at NC State. These leadership roles not only allowed me the opportunity to give back to the community that actively gives to me, but also allowed me to adopt useful skills such as communication, time management, and teambuilding; all skills to use within and outside of the classroom. Overall, I’ve enjoyed gaining critical thinking skills from my classes and being able to successfully utilize said skills in my everyday life, whether through decision-making or approaching engineering problems.

What are some challenges you’ve faced both in and outside of your program? How do these challenges connect to your core values and beliefs?

Representation, especially at academic institutions such as NC State, is important because it allows students to continuously establish community and develop a stronger sense of trust in professors. Having adequate representation in institutions, whether it be in the form of racial, religious, gender, or sexual orientation, offers enriching, essential perspectives and ideas. This is a critical component for institutions like NC State, one that attracts students of all different backgrounds. 

Within the department of engineering, there is a visible lack of representation among faculty and students. As a Black, biracial woman, I would appreciate seeing more professors within the engineering departments that look like me – providing relatability and comfortability in classroom interactions where students are more willing to approach professors with questions. At times, it can be overwhelming attending a predominantly White institution where searching for people of color, both students and faculty, is difficult. These challenges can create conflict because I value community and belonging as a means to facilitate learning. 

It’s important for students to seek and create communities in which they feel most comfortable and possess a sense of belonging. However, students can only do this when presented with a diverse student body. This, along with having a diverse representation in faculty, allows for better learning experiences, an increased confidence in sense of self, and an encouraging environment to connect and grow with others.

What advice would you offer your faculty and campus administrators who are in change-making positions on how to best support students who may be facing similar issues?

In order to create a more inclusive and diverse community for students, campus administrators who are in positions of power should exert considerable effort in attracting and hiring people of diverse backgrounds, specifically people of color, to become professors at NC State. Students should have the opportunity to experience classes with professors who share similar cultures. This exposure creates a cohesive learning environment, shapes students’ experiences in learning course material, and aids in developing a sense of community. Additionally, hiring more professors of color and of diverse backgrounds presents students with a better representation of what they’ll experience outside of academic institutions.