With a near-perfect grade point average, Laura Lemke of Merrick, New York is the valedictorian of the Class of 2014 at Stevens Institute of Technology.
For Lemke, commencement will be the culmination of her Stevens experience that began with an overnight recruitment trip with the university’s cross country and track and field teams. That campus experience, she says, made her “fall in love” with Stevens. “The community of students, professors and administration seemed close-knit, and I felt like this was a place I could really fit in.”
She will graduate with both a bachelor’s in civil engineering and a master’s in ocean engineering with a 3.991 GPA.
As a female pursuing a civil engineering degree, Lemke is aware that she is part of a minority. Women are significantly underrepresented in STEM fields, and finding ways to encourage young girls to develop an interest in math and science have become priorities for educators and policy makers. For that, they can certainly look to Lemke as a prime example of the importance of early encouragement in K-12 education. Lemke, who always enjoyed math and science, says her high school teachers reinforced that interest.
“In my freshman year of high school, I was encouraged by my biology teacher to take part in the science research program that ran through my senior year,” she recalls. Lemke also credits her high school physics teacher for steering her towards a career in engineering. “He always made class interesting and made sure everyone understood the material.”
At Stevens, she says, she was challenged by professors who are invested in their students’ success, and was able to look to strong women leaders in the field of civil engineering.
Lemke named two Stevens faculty members as such examples. “Being a woman, specifically in the civil engineering program, Dr. Leslie Brunell and Dr. Sophia Hassiotis were incredible role models for me,” Lemke says.
For her master’s thesis, Lemke studied patterns in shoreline change along the Jersey Shore in Long Branch, the site of a beach nourishment program. Her research, which took one and one-half years to complete, began while she was a summer scholar at Davidson Laboratory. For two consecutive summers after her freshman year, Lemke was selected to participate in Stevens’ Summer Scholars Research Program, a 10-week program in which undergraduates engage in research under the active supervision of a Stevens faculty member.
Lemke will continue to pursue her passion for coastal engineering. Upon graduation, she will begin a career in that field at CH2M HILL in New York City, an engineering firm that provides consulting, design, construction and operations services for corporations and federal, state and local governments.
Looking back on her undergraduate experience, Lemke says the best piece of advice she can offer new students is to learn how to balance life and work.
“Although I often loved what I studied, it was impossible to immerse myself entirely with work and be happy. I saw the importance of spending time to breathe and enjoy life,” she explained.
Indeed, for Lemke, life at Stevens wasn’t solely about academics. Running has always played a big part in her life, and the opportunity to continue that passion entered into her decision to attend Stevens. The standout moments for Lemke, she says, are the ones that have taken place outside of the classroom.
“One that I will never forget is preseason camp for cross country prior to my freshman year. Before that week, I knew no one, and now four years later, we still cannot stop telling stories about that week.”
Lemke has epitomized the Stevens ideal of the scholar-athlete. She has been a member of Stevens’ track and field and cross country teams for the past four years, appearing consistently on the President’s List, which honors varsity athletes who earn a 3.75 grade point average or higher while participating in a conference-sponsored sport.
As she transitions into becoming a proud Stevens alumna, Lemke says she is mindful of her mother’s insightful advice to her four years ago—“It’s not where you go, it’s what you do when you get there.”
“Stevens offers an incredible array of opportunities,” says Lemke. “Finding one you are passionate about and pursuing it is invaluable.”