Natalie Sherwood graduated from NC State in May with a bachelor’s degree in polymer and color chemistry and headed to New York City for a two-month, summer theater intensive.

When she tells people about her two passions, they often fail to see a relationship between the two.

But it turns out there is one: helping people.

Sherwood pursued her degree in the Wilson College of Textiles because she was passionate about improving the lives of people who are dealing with illness. She participated in research that examined more targeted drug delivery for cancer patients and ways to eliminate unnecessary side effects.

“We looked at ways to improve their quality of life while they’re battling this thing that’s inside of them,” Sherwood said. “I got to see quantifiable results that could have an impact in my lifetime.”

And then there’s the impact that comes from theater. Sherwood got involved with University Theatre as soon as she arrived on campus for her first year at NC State. She’d discovered a passion for theater as a student at Cary High School and wanted to continue exploring that interest.

“It was still very new to me, but it was something I knew I couldn’t leave behind,” she said. “I had to keep exploring – there was something in my gut that was telling me that it was part of who I was.”

Natalie Sherwood portrait

While at NC State in 2018, she was awarded both the Performing Artist Award and Creative Artist Award for theater, supported by the Suzanne Kennedy-Stoskopf Endowment for Creativity in the Performing Arts. That award came with a $500 stipend and $1,000 to fund the production of a play Sherwood had written.

“That was really transformative for me because it was a very personal story that I wanted to share,” Sherwood said. “[The play] centered around mental health, and it facilitated a lot of thoughtful conversation about coming of age, how that affects mental health, and how do we approach that.”

Sherwood speaks openly about facing her own mental health challenges while at NC State. At one point she took a break from university life to take care of herself.

“The play was a chance to feel empowered about a difficult things that I went through,” she said. “I was able to express what I went through to help others.”

Which is where the theme of helping others comes back into play.

As part of NC State’s Open Door Series, Sherwood also participated in a production called “Exonerated,” which focused on people who had spent time in prison for crimes they had not committed. Sherwood found that audience members were coming away from performances of “Exonerated” and her play, “A Good Little Rain,” thinking about the plays’ topics and having important conversations.

“That was incredible as an artist, and as a young adult – seeing the immediate, visible change in people,” she said.

The experiences, and audience reactions, affected her too. This summer’s theater intensive is through the Atlantic Acting School. Sherwood hopes to return to New York City in the future to work with Stella Adler Studio of Acting. That group does outreach at Rikers Island Correctional Facility, working on theater performances with inmates and, in Sherwood’s words, “bringing art and creativity to people that really need it.”

Funding from Arts NC State also allowed her the opportunity to attend the Southeast Theater Conference for four years in a row, where she auditioned for theater companies, participated in workshops and discussions, and found out about the Atlantic Acting School program.

“That really gave me a chance to see that there is a fulfilling career in the arts, if that’s something you’re really passionate about,” she said.

Circling back to her passion for helping others as related to her degree, Sherwood said she plans to return to North Carolina when the acting intensive ends and pursue a job that fits with her major.

Innovative and forward thinking initiatives in the Wilson College of Textiles got her excited for what’s next. Sherwood said the college, which received a naming gift through the Think and Do the Extraordinary Campaign during her senior year, is truly unique in the country.

“They’re doing innovative things, and they’re focused on more than productivity and profit,” she said. “Any class I took asked the question of how this is impacting the environment – what are we leaving behind if we use this dye on this material, for example.

“They have a cycle of helping everyone along the way and being conscious of our impact.”

This post was originally published in Giving News.