All Systems Go: Student-Athlete Laura Mathews Blazes Multiple Trails

Decorated Stevens sprinter and hurdler set several school records while contributing to winning Ansary Competition team

Laura Mathews arrived at Stevens four years ago a gifted math and science-oriented student unsure which major she wanted to pursue. She also was an accomplished high school track athlete beaten down by injuries and convinced her peak competitive days were already in the rearview mirror.

Fast forward to the present day in which Mathews is about to graduate with a B.E. in Industrial & Systems Engineering from the School of Systems and Enterprises while also putting the finishing touches on a rejuvenated track career that saw her become one of the most decorated sprinters and hurdlers in Stevens history.

Mathews' academic and athletic pursuits recently hit their simultaneous apexes, creating an unavoidable conflict. She was a member of the five-person Maritime Security Senior Design team that advanced to the Ansary Entrepreneurship Competition on April 28. The Ansary Competition selects the 10 best Senior Design projects presented at the Stevens Innovation Expo and has them present to a panel of expert judges in a "Shark Tank" style competition, with the winning team receiving $10,000.

However, Mathews was unable to attend in person because she had qualified for the prestigious Penn Relays in Philadelphia on the same day. The Penn Relays is an elite track competition featuring top Division-I athletes. Few Division-III athletes qualify, but Mathews was among that select group. And that is not an opportunity on which she could pass.

"That was incredible. Since last year, I've wanted to compete at the Penn Relays as an individual," said Mathews. "It's been a goal of mine. So, when it was the same day as the Ansary Competition, I thought I have to give myself a shot."

While riding to the track to compete in her 100-meter hurdles qualifier, Mathews was in regular communication with members of her Maritime Security team, who notified her before her heat that the team had advanced to the final three.

With Ansary in the back of her mind, Mathews ran a 14.13 in the 100 hurdles. That was a quarter of a second shy of advancing. But as the only D-III athlete competing, she posted a better time than eight D-I runners. And in her heat, she was competing against Wisconsin's Destiny Huven, who finished sixth in the 2022 national championship race.

"There were a few hurdles when I was right on her tail and I remember they announced, 'Oh, who's that on the outside?' said Mathews. "Oh my, that's me! I'm on the outside! It was such a great experience to see what I could do on the D-I level."

After her heat, Mathews went to grab a bite to eat to restore her energy while she nervously awaited word on the fate of her team. Mathews worked with fellow Industrial & Systems Engineering students Reva Grover, Dehan Kong, Daniel Wadler and Samantha Weckesser on a collaboration with the United States Coast Guard to help them more smartly target potentially hazardous cargo containers before they are loaded onto massive ships for transport across the sea. Mathews worked primarily on the machine-learning aspect of the project, writing a lot of code for the algorithm the team produced.

It is quite an undertaking for a group of undergraduate students to create a software product the U.S. military is implementing and from which it is already seeing improved results. The expert panel at the Ansary Competition was obviously impressed, as the team won the competition, becoming the first Industrial & Systems Engineering team to do so.

Wadler quickly got word to Mathews via text.

"I jumped out of the booth and yelled 'Oh my goodness, we won!' she said. "This confused most of the people. It was a spectacular 15 minutes of my life, to say the least."

Between entering Stevens and that whirlwind 15 minutes, Mathews experienced phenomenal personal growth.

Growing up in Denville, N.J., and attending Morris Hills High School in Rockaway, academics were always stressed in Mathews' family. But she didn't know exactly what she wanted to study and was an undecided engineering student for her first year on campus. She took classes in various disciplines until she discovered what she was looking for.

"I like going top level, figuring out problems from the systems perspective. I didn't have a word for it or even know what a systems engineer was," said Mathews. "But I knew I liked figuring out how to solve the overarching problem and then going into the details. I really like working with data and I really like solving problems, so ISE, let's give it a try."

With that, her academic journey had found its ideal track. As far as life competing on an actual track, Mathews competitive drive had returned. Her high school coach contacted Stevens' track coach and mentioned Mathews' prowess in high school. A tryout was initiated, and one 30-meter run was all that was needed for Mathews to earn a spot on the team.

It has been a history-making decision for Mathews and Stevens track. As of mid-May 2023, Mathews had yet to compete in regional and national competitions to cap her career, but without even including what may happen there, here is an incomplete list of her accomplishments:

School records in:

  • Indoor 60-meter dash

  • Indoor 200-meter dash

  • Outdoor 100-meter dash

  • Outdoor 100-meter hurdles

All-America Awards:

  • 2023 200-meter dash

  • 2023 60-meter hurdles

  • 2022 Outdoor 100-meter hurdles

  • 2022 Indoor 60-meter hurdles

United States Track & Field and Cross Country Association Awards:

  • 2023 Metro Region Indoor Track Athlete of the Year

  • 2022 Metro Region Outdoor Track Athlete of the Year

  • 2022 Metro Region Indoor Track Athlete of the Year

Middle Atlantic Conference Awards:

  • 2023 Outdoor Track Athlete of the Year

  • 2023 Indoor Track Athlete of the Year

  • 2021 Outdoor Track & Field Rookie of the Year

  • 2020 Indoor Track & Field Rookie of the Year

  • 10x All-Conference (Indoor)

  • 9x All-Conference (Outdoor)

That's a lot of hardware. But her contributions to Stevens are much more than what can be seen in a trophy case.

"Laura's exceptionalism goes so much further than the track," said John Kolibab, women's track & field head coach at Stevens. "Her drive to be excellent permeates into everything she does and it's so rare to see someone succeed in so many aspects of their life. Laura has improved tremendously at the balancing act of being a student and an athlete during her time at Stevens and she's found a way to thrive in so many mediums. We couldn't be prouder of her accomplishments."

Although Mathews' undergraduate and track careers are in their final stretches, she is not quite done with Stevens. She is enrolled in the Accelerated Master's Program in which she will receive her B.E. in Industrial & Systems Engineering and her M.Eng. in Engineering Management in five years. So, she will be in Hoboken for another year. This summer, she will intern with Protiviti, a global consulting firm in New York City, working on the newly created technology risk and resilience team.

As for scratching her competitive running itch, Mathews says she will likely transition to long-distance running as the New York Metro area provides plenty of real estate with which to do so.

"I can't live my life without it," she said.

Beyond graduate school, Mathews doesn't have a concrete goal, but she is passionate about the environment, which is evident in her work with the Coast Guard. Like everyone else, she will figure it out when the time comes. More than anything, she's extremely grateful for all the opportunities provided at Stevens.

"Stevens has really helped me get to know my own abilities. I've learned what I can do," said Mathews. "I came in a straggly 18-year-old who had no idea what she was doing. Now, I'm writing code for Coast Guard and running times I never would have dreamed of even a year ago. It has been great to get to know myself more."

Given her track record, it seems likely the rest of the world will get to know Laura Mathews more, as well.