Sarah Paluskiewicz ’16 Builds on Science Interests to Solve Social Issues

Polymer and color chemistry major Sarah Paluskiewicz ’16 became fascinated with this field of study in high school, when a Ph.D. candidate at Cornell University introduced her to fiber science.

“I met with her and was taken aback by how innovative and dynamic fibers could be,” said Paluskiewicz said. “That summer I did an internship in imaging science at Rochester Institute of Technology and learned about their graduate program in color science. A simple Google search showed that I could marry the two fields at NC State.”

While Paluskiewicz, a New York native, always thought she would attend college in that region, NC State eventually won her over.

Sarah Paluskiewicz '16 being interviewed by Time Warner News about Shackathon - Fall 2014
Sarah Paluskiewicz ’16 being interviewed by Time Warner News about Shackathon – Fall 2014

“As I explored NC State digitally, I fell for it,” she said. “The dynamic majors and minors, classes at the Crafts Center, living and learning villages, scholarship programs, widespread research, and especially the warm weather all felt like the perfect fit. I wanted it all.”

Indeed, throughout her first three years at NC State, Paluskiewicz has taken advantage of all of these opportunities and more. As a freshman Centennial Scholar, she followed the work of a graduate student researcher in Dr. Steve Michielsen’s textile engineering lab.

“The idea is that we would immobilize enzymes on cotton sliver with polyacrylic acid,” Paluskiewicz explained. “The enzymes I was working with detoxified phenols which are toxins that can be found in industrial wastewater. So imagine a biological water ‘filter’ as the application. At the time, this was an exciting project for me because I was working on raising awareness for water issues. A couple of other Parks in my class and I founded SPLASH2O, a nonprofit, to educate the student body about global and local water problems.”

Paluskiewicz spent the spring semester of her sophomore year studying abroad at England’s University of Leeds. There she worked with polymer chemist Dr. Paul Thornton on a project to synthesize specialized Poly(ethylene)glycol (PEG) derivatives for Procter & Gamble. Paluskiewicz also helped in the synthesizing of hydrogels which, due to their mimicry of natural skin and body moisture levels, were being tested as a support for cell and tissue growth.

Back on campus, Paluskiewicz discovered another outlet for her desire to work hands-on with materials: Habitat for Humanity.

“I enjoy woodworking, crafting, and decorating. Habitat seemed like a natural way to apply those interests to service,” says Paluskiewicz.

She credits fellow Park Scholar Alyson Harding ’13 with making this connection during a conversation at the Class of 2016 freshman retreat, for which Harding served as a facilitator.

Kevin Quick '15 and Sarah Paluskiewicz '16 taught children about poverty and constructed a mini-shack with them during Edenton United Methodist's Vacation Bible School - Summer 2014
Kevin Quick ’15 and Sarah Paluskiewicz ’16 taught children about poverty and constructed a mini-shack with them during Edenton United Methodist’s Vacation Bible School – Summer 2014

“I expressed my interest to Alyson and she helped open the door to our campus chapter,” said Paluskiewicz. “I went to my first build day the first weekend of school and every weekend for the next two months.”

As a freshman, Paluskiewicz served as a fundraising officer for NC State’s chapter of Habitat for Humanity. She co-led a merger of the chapter’s previously unprofitable House Your Neighbor 5K with Edenton United Methodist Church’s Race of Cakes. As a result, that year’s race generated more than $10,000 for Habitat for Humanity of Wake County. Paluskiewicz led another successful event the following year as chair of the chapter’s annual Shackathon, which raised $37,500 – a 25% increase over funds raised the year before. In 2014, Shackathon set another record; under Paluskiewicz’s mentorship, this past year’s event raised $46,000.

Paluskiewicz has further fostered her passion for affordable housing advocacy by serving on the Board of Directors for Habitat of Wake County and interning with A Brush with Kindness, a Habitat affiliate that provides minor exterior home repairs and landscaping services for elderly and disabled Habitat homeowners.

“It blew my mind that simple roof repairs and replacing some moldy siding could stop a family’s homeowner’s insurance from being revoked and therefore prevent repossession by the bank,” said Paluskiewicz.

To build on this (pun intended), she joined the Board of Directors’ Neighborhood Relations Task Force and has been working to initiate a critical repair program for Habitat of Wake County. This program, which Paluskiewicz expects to launch within a year, will provide major home repairs for families who are financially and/or physically unable to make these repairs themselves.

Paluskiewicz attributes much of her personal, professional, and academic growth to the Park Scholarships program.

Sarah Paluskiewicz '16 driving the truck fondly known as "Shrimpy," which contains all of Habitat Wake County's Neighbor Revitalization tools for exterior repairs.
Sarah Paluskiewicz ’16 driving the truck fondly known as “Shrimpy,” which contains all of Habitat Wake County’s Neighbor Revitalization tools for exterior repairs.

“The program has taught me to continuously seek good people and mentors to surround myself with so that I may continue to grow and be challenged,” she said. “I love that Park has supported and inspired me to become the best version of myself. I think continued growth and development of service, character, scholarship, and leadership is most sustainable when it is authentic to each individual.”

Looking toward the future, Paluskiewicz – who will serve as will serve as president of NC State’s Chapter of Habitat for Humanity as a senior – sees herself remaining involved with Habitat for Humanity.

“The affordable housing crisis in the U.S. and the global housing crisis needs a lot of attention and many creative solutions to tackle. It may be that this area becomes my career for a time.”

Currently, she is interning with Undercover Colors, a startup founded by Tyler Confrey-Maloney ’13 that’s developing technology to alert people of date rape drugs in their drinks by a color change of their nail polish or nail decal.

“It is precisely these niche projects in my field that are trying to tackle big issues that I will continue to seek out and help develop,” said Paluskiewicz, who plans to complete her master’s degree in textile engineering at NC State and is also considering law school.

“I would like to apply polymer and color chemistry or textiles to highly purpose-driven work,” she said.

Story by Maressa Gabriel

posted 2015.06.10