Coming to Stevens Institute of Technology was a no-brainer for scholar-athlete Julia Panko '20.
“It was absolutely the best place for me. I always wanted to play soccer, but getting a degree was always the most important thing,” she says of her decision to become a Stevens Duck.
Playing Division I soccer wasn’t an option, she says, given the amount of travel and classes she would have to miss. And by choosing Stevens, Panko says she didn’t have to compromise on anything.
“What’s so amazing about Stevens is that you get to play such high-level soccer here and still get an amazing education.”
The chemical engineering junior from Millstone Township, New Jersey, is living proof of that claim.
A member of Stevens’ women's soccer team, the talented midfielder was named a Second Team Google Cloud Academic All-American, as selected by the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA), in December 2018.
It's the second straight season that Panko, who became just the second player in program history to receive the prestigious honor in 2017, has been honored as a Second Team Academic All-American, making her the university’s first ever two-time academic all American, an honor that requires performance on the field as well as in the classroom.
"In our world, that is the highest honor any student-athlete can receive. And Julia is a great representation of what we are all about – always striving to reach our full potential in all aspects of our endeavors," said head coach Jeff Parker. “What we are most proud of is the person Julia is every day – someone who inspires you to do your best because you know you’re always going to get her best."
A superstar on the field plays to win in her career
Panko’s effervescent personality belies a competitive zeal and dogged determination that have propelled her to excellence both on and off the field.
On the field, Panko repeated as the Empire 8 Conference Offensive Player of the Year in November after finishing second in the conference in both goals and points while piloting the Ducks to their fourth straight E8 crown. She was also honored as a First Team All-American by the United Soccer Coaches to become the second two-time All-American in program history.
Off the field, she continues to maintain a nearly 4.0 cumulative grade-point average and is a multiple-time President's List honoree and member of Stevens’ prestigious Pinnacle Scholars Program.
As a Pinnacle Scholar, Panko was afforded the opportunity to take part in research that touches on the sport that she has played since she was five years old.
“I was able to work with Professor Damiano Zanotto in making instrumented insoles that collect data on an athlete’s gait while they walk or run. He wanted to determine if there was a way to correlate the data from the insoles to diagnose concussions in soccer players. Even though this was a mechanical engineering opportunity, I chose it for my summer research after my freshman year because of my obvious interest in the sport.”
Panko leveraged that research experience to gain career-making opportunities.
“In high school I never had a chance to do research, let alone something on that level. And to have it so early in my college career really gave me a leg up when I was hunting for a co-op position later.”
She is now in the middle of her second co-op term with BP, as a member of the research innovation team in BP’s global lubricants technology department in Wayne, New Jersey.
“It’s such a great working environment in terms of the innovation that happens there and the people who I get to work with. As a woman, I feel fortunate to be surrounded by so many female co-workers and seeing how they play such important roles at all levels.”
Laying the foundation for a Stevens legacy
Panko’s ability to thrive at BP shows how far she has come in her career goals since first coming to Stevens.
“Coming in I didn’t know what a chemical engineer did. I just knew I really liked chemistry. I chose to do the Stevens co-op program to see if that was a career that was a good fit for me. And it was exactly the right decision because I love what I’m doing now.”
Panko balances her co-op at BP, which ends in August, with soccer practices in the evenings and weekends. She’s excited about playing on the same team with her younger sister Olivia, a future Duck who’ll be joining her on the women’s soccer team this fall as a freshman.
“I’m looking forward to her being here for my last year of soccer at Stevens. Olivia made varsity her first year of high school and we got to play together in my senior year. So I would love to repeat that at Stevens.”