As a high school student at New Jersey's Whippany Park High School, Gina Dello Russo '20 M.Eng. '20 competed strongly in track and field events — although she remembers those years more modestly, preferring to focus instead on her teammates.
"We did really well as a team. I won a couple of county titles myself, but I was not really an exceptional athlete at the state level," she recalls.
All that changed when she arrived on campus in 2016.
Five years later, Dello Russo now owns the Stevens women's records for the outdoor 100-, 200- and 400-meter dashes; the indoor 200-, 300-, 400- and 500-meter dashes; several relay-team records; and even the women's indoor long jump.
Capping off her career, she topped the entire Division III field in the 400-meter dash final in Greensboro, North Carolina in her final collegiate meet in May, becoming Stevens' sixth-ever NCAA champion athlete.
And she has done it all without missing a beat in her studies, which continue as a Stevens Ph.D. student researching complex sustainable-energy markets.
“We are so proud of everything Gina has accomplished, and appreciative of how she represented our track and field program," says Stevens Athletic Director Russ Rogers. "Her teammates have seen how hard she works and how successful she has become, on-track and off. They truly appreciate what a great teammate and person she has been."
"I just keep focused on what is the next goal," Dello Russo says. "You have to, both in track and in school."
Training runs in Italy; drones above the Shore
Attracted to Stevens by a love of math and physics — as well as the recommendation of a friend, and the recruiting efforts of the university's track coaches — Dello Russo made an immediate impact both in the classroom and on the track.
During her first year of spring track, while still competing in the pole vault, high jump and long jump, she began winning events.
She also bonded with assistant women's coach Veronica Montrose, who had recruited Dello Russo to Stevens and would influence her tremendously throughout her athletics career.
"It's incredible what she's done both individually and for the team," says Montrose. "She works so hard and is so committed that she makes you want to be a better coach, a better teammate."
Dello Russo also immediately began enjoying the benefits of Stevens' highly selective Pinnacle Scholars Program, for which she had been chosen during admission.
Following her first year of coursework, for example, she found herself piloting a jet-ski around the Statue of Liberty en route to the Jersey Shore, where she surveyed beach-sand conditions with drones as part of a student team led by Stevens coastal engineering professor Jon Miller.
"That was a lot of work, but it was also a lot of fun," she says.
Over the next three years Dello Russo would complete her bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering, study abroad — and experience two internships in industry that would alter the course of her education.
"I found that I enjoyed the project management experience more than the mechanical engineering internship," she recalls. "That led me to explore pursuing a master's in engineering management."
So Dello Russo added to her course load, completing the graduate degree alongside her bachelor's within four and one-half years — while continuing to train hard for track year-round.
She would eventually win more than 25 MAC and Empire 8 individual championships, and spurred the women's team to both its first-ever indoor and first-ever outdoor conference titles. She was recognized by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association as the Atlantic Region Indoor Track Athlete of the Year in 2019.
In the classroom, Dello Russo achieved a 3.94 grade-point average as an undergraduate — then did even better as a master's student, posting a 4.0 GPA.
"I've found that the more you have to do, the better you can organize your time," she says of her time-management skills.
Case in point: During a three week study-abroad intersession in Florence, Italy, Dello Russo joined a local Italian gym to work out and did training runs through the lovely streets of the historic city.
"I was able to take it all in, and still continue my training," she says.
Becoming a champion — and looking ahead
In the fall of 2020, having completed her master's degree, Dello Russo began pursuing doctoral research under the mentorship of Schools of Systems & Enterprises (SSE) professor Steven Hoffenson.
She's currently working on a project to assess sustainable-energy markets with regard to consumer behavior.
"We are developing a model of energy markets, to determine how different policy scenarios, incentives, fees and social-norm messaging might influence people's behavior," she explains.
She also intensified her training.
Blending hard sprint-interval training with occasional longer runs of a mile or two under Montrose's tutelage, Dello Russo pointed for the May 2021 NCAA Division III Outdoor Track and Field National Championships meet.
The 2020-2021 fall and winter indoor track season had been cancelled by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the state's public running tracks and gyms had also closed down — but Dello Russo continued training, building her own weight-training and workout setup at home and practicing sprints on local neighborhood streets.
When campus athletics facilities reopened after a full year of lockdown, Dello Russo began leaving home at 5:30 a.m. most mornings to reach campus and travel to meets with the team — just as her first semester of Ph.D. program coursework began to ramp up.
As the top seed in Division III entering the two-day NCAA Championship last spring, Dello Russo felt prepared. A strong challenger from the preliminary round left her with the second-best time heading into the next day's championship race.
Still, her confidence remained high.
"I was ready," she says.
In the finals, Dello Russo ran a personal-best time of 54.17 seconds, out-leaning the next two runners by a fraction and shattering the previous MAC conference record in the process to take home the title.
She then brought coach Montrose up to the podium to stand with her for the NCAA championship trophy presentation.
"Everything Coach did worked so well for me," Dello Russo recalls. "We formed a really strong bond. It was fantastic to have her beside me on the podium; that was my goal. We all cried together."
Later that day, she returned to the track to finish sixth in the 200-meter finals and earn her 12th career All-America honor — and the team finished in the top 20 in the meet, out of more than 100 competing Division III squads.
Now, as Dello Russo looks forward to completion of her university studies and a potential future as a teacher, professor or coach — as well as one final spring of outdoor track competition — she expresses great appreciation for her Stevens years.
"The strong athletics community on campus has made my Stevens experience very memorable," she says. "A lot of students here are also athletes, and we support each other, congratulate each other. It's a true community. Even coaches and athletes from other sports will stop you when they see you, talk to you, take time to get to know you.
"Academically, as well, I feel like I've learned a lot, and my professors have consistently been very supportive and accommodating."
"She's going to do amazing things in life," sums Montrose, "and I can't wait to see where she goes from here."