The O’Loughlin family brick in NCSSM’s Alumni Walk.
Leslie Wander ’01 may live across the country from NCSSM, but she is still an engaged member of the NCSSM community and a consistent supporter of the NCSSM Foundation. One way that Wander and her family have chosen to give to the school is through the Alumni Walk.
Wander came to NCSSM from Boone, NC, a transition that opened her world, she says. “I think for me, Science and Math really just broadened my horizons,” Wander says. “Science and Math opened my eyes to all that was out there,” she says, including helping her find subjects she really enjoyed and excelled in. “I would never have done engineering in a million years had I not gone to Science and Math,” she says of her chosen field.
After graduating in 2001, she attended NC State University, where she studied materials science and engineering. She worked at Cree in Research Triangle Park for a few years after completing her degree. She wouldn’t have landed the position had it not been for NCSSM, she says. As part of the school’s Mentorship program, Wander completed an internship during her senior year of high school with Cree. “I made some great connections there, and after college, I was able to go back there for a job,” she says. “Science and Math opened a lot of doors — both internal, in deciding what would be good for me, and having the world at my fingertips, and also external connections that I never would have had otherwise.”
Wander married and moved with her husband to Costa Rica to volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, building homes for a year and a half. Then they moved to Seattle, where her husband completed graduate school (he now works at Microsoft) and Wander worked for an aerospace company before moving into a consulting role. Five months ago, they welcomed a son to their family.
Even on the other side of the country, she finds ways to be part of the NCSSM community. “There are tons of people I still keep in touch with,” she says. “[NCSSM alumni] are an amazing group of people to be connected with.”
When she graduated, her family chose to support the school by purchasing a brick for the Alumni Walk. This walkway of custom-engraved bricks runs through the middle of campus, with bricks honoring alumni as well as family members, friends, and instructors who support their students. Wander shared the story behind her family’s brick: “Dad was diagnosed with cancer between my junior and senior years at Science and Math and was given three months to live. His goal was to see me graduate high school, and he made it! We ordered a brick in honor of that.” Her father, Lan O’Loughlin, is honored by the O’Loughlin family brick near the start of the Alumni Walk, just a couple of bricks over from the brick honoring his daughter and the graduation that meant so much to their family.
“I am so grateful for the opportunities I was given at Science and Math,” Wander says. “And I would hope that those same opportunities can be given to students in the future. So for me, it’s important to give in support of that.”