The original version of this article appears on the College of Engineering News website.
As a senior chemical engineering major and a full-time employee at Sheetz, 38-year-old Marcie Schinke’s biggest priority is her third role: being a mom.
Not even Zoom interviews to talk about her experience at NC State are immune from crying children. As Schinke’s 18-month-old daughter, Scarlet, began fussing for attention, Schinke only laughed. “We might have to stand and move around a little bit,” she said, bringing her laptop with her.
According to Schinke, she’s a “little bit of an untraditional student.” Initially, she went to college in 2002, the same year she graduated high school. She declared herself a chemistry major with the intent of going to medical school.
“After my sophomore year, I got my first C ever in my life,” Schinke said. “It was in organic chemistry, so I thought, ‘Wow, I must not be cut out for this chemistry stuff. I’m gonna switch majors and do something that comes a little bit easier to me,’ so I switched my major to fine arts and I graduated with a bachelor of fine arts in 2006.”
Unable to find a job – ”The whole starving artist thing kind of rings true,” Schinke said – she worked in several retail management positions and ended up at Sheetz in 2008. She has been a district manager for the company for the last eight years.
“I had gotten it in my head that I wanted to go back to school at some point and probably do chemical engineering, but my student loans were coming in and I wasn’t in school, so I had to pay them off,” she said. “I did pay off my student loans in 2018 and I applied to NC State for chemical engineering. I thought, ‘I don’t know if I’ll get accepted. I haven’t been to school in over a decade.’ But I got accepted and I saw it through.”
Schinke began her time at NC State in 2018 when her son, Emory, was 1 year old. She’s had loads of wild experiences since then, balancing school with her job and her family, but the birth of her daughter – and taking an exam for bio manufacturing lab while in labor – stands out as the wildest yet.
“She was born in October 2021,” Schinke said. “It’s funny, her due date was Oct. 5, which was the day of the final exam. I knew what my due date was well before classes started, so I emailed my professor and said, ‘Hey look, this is what’s going on.’
“She did come on her due date, but thankfully the exam was open book and allowed to be done online, so it wasn’t an in-person thing or anything like that. I actually got it done before we went to the hospital. I believe I turned in my exam some time in the middle of the day and I had my husband drop off my lab notebook from the hospital.”
Overall, Schinke says it hasn’t been terribly difficult to balance work and school. Her senior design class this past semester took place in the evenings, which meant she rarely had a conflict with her job. Her other class was hybrid.
Much of Schinke’s undergraduate career at NC State took place during the pandemic as well, which meant she took many of her classes online. Her biggest conflicts tend to be with the kids, like when they’re sick and can’t go to daycare. Her husband is often the backup plan in that regard.
Right now, Schinke is still employed with Sheetz, where she could use her degree for different positions if she wished. Her big dream, though, is to work in biomanufacturing. She’s currently open to exploring what positions might be available in the Raleigh area.
Being a pre-med student wasn’t the right fit, but, “Being able to be involved with some of the companies around here making important medicine would give me that option to still do a job where I’m able to help people,” she said. “Do I have any official plans? No. I took my time going back to school and graduating. I’m going to take my time figuring out my next career move.
“One thing that I keep telling everyone is that I’m blown away by how wonderful the staff has been, especially in the chemical engineering department, just in terms of working with me,” Schinke continued. “I was probably a pain for every TA I had. Things that were probably still fresh for other students weren’t for me. I had to relearn trigonometry and things I hadn’t thought about in 15 years. But everyone has been so supportive and so helpful and no one has ever made me feel like I couldn’t do this.”