Graduate Student Spotlight: Karl Schuchard

Do all engineers start loving STEM at a young age? From disassembling and reassembling models to excelling in math in science classes, it seems like all engineers begin here. However, Ph.D. student Karl Schuchard challenges this stereotype. For him, it all started with a love of nature.

“My parents encouraged my personal scientific exploration when I was growing up, and we did a lot of at-home experiments,” Schuchard recalled. Being free to explore nature served to fuel his curiosity, so in college, Schuchard participated in various nature research projects while studying political science and mathematics. One project was a two-year National Science Foundation research program in biology and mathematics. This collaboration gave Schuchard experience performing hands-on research with biologists. In return, he taught his fellow researchers how to mathematically model results. “Through this work, I learned the value of humbly stepping outside of my research domain to work on a cross-functional team,” he explained. “I knew that this was the type of research that I wanted to continue doing in graduate school.”

With support from his advisors in biology and mathematics, finding a path to follow in graduate school was easy. Industrial Engineering was a perfect fit because of its cross-functional and widely applicable field. “ISEs are systematic problem solvers, and I think we catch on fast and can apply ourselves in new ways constantly, all the while working with a huge cross-section of the population,” Schuchard stated. It complements what he learned during his undergraduate research flawlessly.

Just like discovering how ISE was the perfect degree, finding the ISE department at NC State was also a Goldilocks situation. “I was unsure of what area I wanted to pursue research in but knew that I wanted a larger ISE department that was solid in a wide breadth of disciplines so I could explore a bit,” Schuchard admitted. Some departments were too small, and others were too specialized. “But, when I came to NC State, it honestly felt like home,” he said. NC State held many research concentrations, experienced and relatable professors and offered an active larger community. Schuchard could continue making contributions to science, technology, and society while enjoying the natural splendor of North Carolina’s beaches, mountains, music, food, lakes, rivers and parks. 

Never one to slow down, Schuchard stays active while finishing his Ph.D. “I’ve played golf since I was 5 and of course, being in North Carolina: every day is a challenge to keep my GPS pointed away from the range or squeezing in nine (or 18, don’t tell my advisor),” he exclaimed. Schuchard even finds ways to merge nature and engineering. “I really enjoy rock climbing in the Piedmont with my friends and girlfriend,” he said. Many routes are protected and require removable anchors into existing cracks or weaknesses in the rock. “It’s really a high-dimensional engineering problem that you get to physically experience, which is both physically and mentally challenging,” he explained. 

Upon graduation, Schuchard will consider biomedical and pharmaceutical manufacturing, research and development, and quality science opportunities. “The Research Triangle Park is a great place to be for pursuing these positions, so I will be here for now.”