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Charting Her Own Course

Sophomore Erin Ferrare is engaging in campus life and carving out a career path.

Since she arrived at NC State, sophomore Erin Ferrare has set her sights on one goal — to balance her time equally between engaging in campus life and charting a career path.

Here are a few highlights: She’s majoring in Science, Technology and Society (STS), with minors in science communication and marine science; an assistant sports editor at Technician; a College of Humanities and Social Sciences student ambassador; and a freelance writer for the Yale School of Public Health, which is a springboard to an internship she will start at the school this summer.

So what’s her dream job? Working in the communications office at NASA as a science writer. Not surprising since Ferrare’s parents are current or retired NASA employees; she spent time visiting the Langley Research Center in Virginia, which is not far from where she grew up, and she received a scholarship from NASA to attend college. 

“Being able to communicate science at all levels is at the heart of what I want to do – and what I want to help NASA do,” she explained.

Still getting to this point in her college experience has not been a straight line. Initially, Ferrare majored in marine science, hoping to link her love of marine life with science research.

But halfway through freshman year, she had a change of heart. “I like talking and writing about research more than actually doing it,” she said. “And I like making sure the research is reaching the right audiences and being relayed in an important way.”

As a result, Ferrare realized that blending her two passions –  science and communication – was her path forward. That led her to switch her major to STS, and minor in science communication and marine science.

“Marine science is giving me insight on how to talk to researchers and science communication will help me convey their research simply and effectively to the public,” she said.

For Ferrare, the STS program offers the ability to create “an individualized college path.” It also provides the flexibility to discover new interests and explore them through experiential learning opportunities like internships.

“I’ve hand-picked my classes and complement them with internships to gain the experience for what I want to do in the future,” she explained. “And I can continue to build on that foundation.”

To understand the ins and outs of technical writing and see if it is a career fit, for instance, she applied for an internship at a business and IT marketing company in Raleigh. She landed a part-time position as a technical content writer.

The result? “I am not a fan of that kind of writing,” Ferrare said.

To learn the mechanics of writing about public health, Ferrare is employing that same strategy with her freelance position and summer internship at Yale. Additionally, last summer, when she wanted to gain social media skills, she volunteered for the Norfolk Tides Baseball Club; and to learn about public speaking she narrated dolphin-watching boat tours at the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center.  

Erin Ferrare.

“I like applying what I learn in the classroom to real-world tasks and to learn new skills through real-world experience,” she said. “The STS program enables me to do both.”

Ferrare approaches joining campus organizations the same way. To acquire interviewing and reporting skills she joined Technician, the school’s newspaper, and leveraged her knowledge of sports (she played volleyball in high school) to land a sports writing position. She is now assistant sports editor.

And to build her social capital in the science field she joined Alpha Omega Epsilon, a sorority for women in STEM.

Ferrare credits NC State with helping her chart her future. “I knew coming to NC State would give me the wiggle room I needed if I wanted to change my major,” she said.

Here, there is something for everyone – so many clubs, so many majors and minors to choose from, she added. “It also offers the opportunity to meet people with different thoughts, experiences and backgrounds.”

As for her advice to fellow students, Ferrare said: “Put yourself out there and try as much as you can. It’s scary but it’s the only way to learn what you like and what you don’t like.”

What’s next for Ferrare? Over the next two years, she said she is contemplating applying for internships at NC State’s university communications and NASA, lining up environmental communication, public health, physics, and coding classes, and perhaps studying abroad.

Coming to college is all about living your life according to who you want to be, she said. So far, it is clear Ferrare is doing just that.