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Textile Engineering Student Defines High Performance

Courtney Oswald

By Susan Fandel

High performance defines every aspect of Textiles student Courtney Oswald’s college career. It is evidenced in her pursuit of academic excellence, in two internship experiences, in her role as president of the Textile Engineering Society, and, quite literally, in her undergraduate research in the area of protective and performance textiles.

A native of Lovettsville, Va., Oswald is a textile engineering major with a concentration in product engineering. She will graduate May 12 with a Bachelor of Science, and just seven months later, she will earn a Master of Science in Textile Engineering.

The driven Centennial Scholar set herself on the path to accomplish this starting high school where she earned a large number of Advanced Placement credits. Upon coming into NC State’s Wilson College of Textiles she learned that there was an option to complete a textile engineering master’s in just one extra year, and that with her credits and some careful planning of courses, she could do it in four and half years.

“I began taking classes that will count towards my masters the spring of my sophomore year and have been scheduling them each semester since then so it has been a fairly seamless transition. The master’s classes I take are very interesting to me, so although they are definitely challenging, I enjoy them a lot,” she said.

In fact, Oswald finds textile engineering to be the perfect blend of her interests. All through grade school, she wanted to be a fashion designer – even designing and sewing some of her own clothes – and taking as many art classes she could to become a better designer. But she also loved math and science and felt strongly that she needed to pursue a career in STEM. At her father’s urging, she explored engineering programs and discovered the textile engineering program at NC State.

“It seemed like the perfect fit for me as I would be able to learn even more about textiles that had applications both within and outside of clothing design, and apply creativity to solve problems using these materials,” she said.

I was completely mesmerized with the fact that seemingly simple textiles can be so powerful. Textiles can stop a bullet, clean the water you drink and allow you to walk through flames without fear of burning.

The very next day, Oswald toured NC State and the Wilson College of Textiles, where she learned about the Summer Textile Exploration Program (STEP), a one-week residential camp open to rising seniors. Her STEP experience cemented her love of NC State, textile engineering and the Wilson College of Textiles.

“I enjoyed the family atmosphere that embodies the Wilson College of Textiles, juxtaposed with the benefits of attending a large university,” said Oswald.

One of those benefits has been the opportunity to work with the world renowned Textile Protection and Comfort Center (TPACC) on undergraduate research. TPACC is the nation’s leading center for research and education on advanced clothing systems.

“Protective and performance textiles was immediately an area I was drawn to after learning about textile engineering. I toured Underwriters Laboratories during STEP camp and thought all of the testing done at that facility was absolutely amazing. I was completely mesmerized with the fact that seemingly simple textiles can be so powerful. Textiles can stop a bullet, clean the water you drink and allow you to walk through flames without fear of burning,” she said.

Oswald was initially put on a project with two textile technology students developing a test method to determine the ventilation of firefighter turnout suits using a tracer gas method. That project was followed by individual research projects, one looking at the formation of blisters due to the friction between skin and fabric, and another developing a test method to quantify and evaluate heat loss as a fabric transitions from a dry to a wet state using a guarded sweating hot plate.

“Becoming involved in TPACC research was without a doubt the best thing I did during my time here at NC State and has opened up so many opportunities for me. The test method I have developed has connected me with amazing companies that sponsor the research I am working on, and I was even able to give an oral presentation on my work at the 2018 International AATCC Conference,” said Oswald, who was the youngest presenter at that conference.

The research and development experiences with TPACC were building blocks that led to two successful internships: the first with Gildan Yarns as an engineering intern, where she analyzed data and worked on improving plant safety; the second as a research and development intern at HanesBrands Inc., where she worked on several projects including consolidation of leg elastics with a cost analysis, experimentation to implement a polymer for printed support, and the development of a test method to determine shape wear firmness.

The takeaways for her have been invaluable. She was able to network with representatives from other companies, operated a large variety of testing equipment that was new to her, learned about new materials that may be applied or included in the development of textiles, and experienced the corporate side of research and development.

“All of this knowledge is very applicable to my Senior Design class this semester as I am working directly for a company to develop a product that will hopefully become mass produced,” she said.

Senior Design is the capstone course for textile engineering and textile technology students. The course matches student teams with companies, who challenge the students to solve a relevant industrial or research problem. Working with sponsoring companies under guidance of Textiles faculty members, the students have two semesters to create a solution.

Oswald’s team was charged by the U.S. Army to develop a K9 bite sleeve iteration in which bite force location and pressure are measured and displayed via Bluetooth to a connected app.

“It has been an amazing experience ideating solutions, creating prototypes, developing in-lab tests to validate our technical decisions, and finally, testing our product using live K9s,” said Oswald.

In addition to her academic, research and professional pursuits, for two years Oswald has served as president of the Textile Engineering Society (TES), a club she joined as a freshman. TES celebrates the TE community while providing opportunities for students to learn more about industry innovations and network with textile company reps.

“As president, I have worked diligently to be sure that this club is an organization that students can be excited about. I began regular officer meetings to gain input on meetings that are meaningful to members, and officially opened membership to graduate students. In addition, I began a mentorship program to connect underclassman with upperclassman, and increased the company visits to twice a year to enable members to make even more industry connections,” she said.

As the faculty adviser for the Textile Engineering Society, Philip Bradford, associate professor and textile engineering program director, watched Oswald develop her leadership skills.

“Over the years I saw her grow into an extraordinary leader and her peers recognized this as well, electing her president of TES in her senior year. I know she will excel in her future career because of those skills and her passion of working with others,” he said.

By anyone’s definition – but certainly by her own – Oswald is a successful leader.

“When I think of leadership, I think of a person who inspires others to achieve. A leader leads by giving the help, support and encouragement needed for others to find their own way to success. Leaders know when to act and speak but they also know that it is important to listen and learn from others,” she said.

Long-time friend and fellow textile engineering student Matt Coats has seen Oswald’s commitment to excellence up close.

“She is more than willing to lend a hand to help those around her and takes time to invest in relationships with students and staff at the college. She is genuinely passionate about textiles and how they can better society and help people in their everyday lives. She inspires those around her to think big, apply our knowledge in the classroom, and not shy away from chasing a goal we may not believe ourselves is possible,” he said.

And what is Oswald’s next goal? December graduation from the graduate program followed by a career in the field of research and development to create, improve and test protective and performance textiles for military applications.

“I have an enormous amount of respect for our military and service members and the fact that they risk their lives every day to help save others. If we can manipulate and design textiles that allow them to be safer and more comfortable, that would be the most fulfilling job I can think of,” she said. “However, I would consider any job that challenges me, changes on a day-to-day basis, and allows me to be creative and learn new things would be my idea of a dream job.”