Derek Aday serves as one of two Chancellor-appointed Park Faculty Scholars for the Class of 2016. In this role, he and his counterpart, James Kiwanuka-Tondo, guide their class in developing enrichment activities and advise individual students on academic matters.
Aday also sits on the Park Advisory Committee, which provides programmatic counsel to the Park Scholarships director. This combination of responsibilities has afforded Aday a unique dual perspective – from on the ground and from 30,000 feet – of the Park Scholarships program.
“Our program challenges students to think broadly and deeply about topics that they’ve likely not been, nor would be, exposed to in a typical university curriculum,” Aday said. “We challenge them to question their own beliefs and behaviors and to develop an awareness of their approach to scholarship, community service, and leadership. We provide opportunities for them to step outside of their comfort zones and experience new ways of thinking, communicating, and living. Most of all, I think (and hope) we challenge them to be even better than they thought they could be.”
An associate professor in NC State’s Department of Applied Ecology, Aday also serves as assistant director of academic programs in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) and works with students in the CALS Honors and Thomas Jefferson Scholars programs.
Aday’s scholarly research focuses on water-related issues, from conservation, to water quality and contaminants, to management of organisms that inhabit aquatic systems. When Aday addressed his Park class during their first-year seminar in Fall 2012, he discovered that a number of students shared his passion for water issues. Together, they created SPLASH2O: Students Pursuing Lasting Solutions and Awareness in Society for H2O, an organization that unites NC State students, faculty, and friends from the Raleigh community who are invested in the topics of water quality and resources.
“The bulk of the work to date has been done by a handful of really dedicated Park students,” said Aday of SPLASH2O’s development. “I’ve mostly served as a sounding board and as a source of advice. It takes time to build a student club, but my hope is that we’ll eventually have a critical mass that makes possible the sort of education and outreach issues that we hope to engage in. Ultimately, I hope to be able to say that our club has had an impact on water-related issues at our university and in our community.”
While his direct involvement with the Park Scholarships program has spanned only the past two years, Aday has enjoyed an abundance of fulfilling interactions with Park Scholars. He had trouble identifying just one favorite experience.
“I have one of the best jobs on the planet,” he said. “I get to pursue my research interests and passions with fascinating colleagues and in interesting places. Just in the last five years my work has taken me to nine different countries on four continents, and several of those trips involved Park students.”
In 2012 Aday traveled with Kiwanuka-Tondo and several Park Scholars to Uganda. There they immersed themselves in the culture, taking advantage of Kiwanuka-Tondo’s connections in the country. In 2013 Aday accompanied a group of Park Scholars to Belize, where they snorkeled with sharks and stingrays and delivered water filtration systems to an impoverished community outside of San Pedro.
Even more than these trips, however, Aday said some of his fondest Park experiences are the informal conversations with individuals and groups, particularly when students have gathered at his house for dinner with his family.
When asked what he envisions as the future of Park Scholarships, Aday said, “I think the program is destined for continued greatness. I am sure the program will build on the very solid foundation that the amazing Park staff have developed and organized.”
Story by Laura Turner