Returning With a Responsibility
By Jessica Roulhac
Associate Professor of Textile and Apparel, Technology and Management (TATM) Kavita Mathur ’07 knew exactly what she wanted to do after earning her doctorate from the then-named College of Textiles at NC State. With confidence, she wanted to stay in academia and become a professor.
A career-shaping conversation with her advisor would change her direction. While her advisor affirmed her pursuit of becoming a professor, he also encouraged her to pursue industry experience.
“I took that advice very seriously,” she says. “I graduated in May and had my first job in October.”
If there’s one thing Dr. Mathur shares with her students today, it’s that they can trust the words of their professors. They were once students, too.
In 2018, a little more than a decade after graduation, Mathur returned to campus. This time, however, she was a member of the faculty. She brought along her curiosity for solving day-to-day problems and her extensive experience developing innovative textile technology.
Knock, knock … opportunity
Before Mathur attended NC State to pursue a doctoral degree, she had already been excelling in top programs in India. She received her bachelor’s degree in textiles and clothing from Rajasthan Agricultural University in India. She later earned her master’s degree in textiles and clothing from SNDT University.
After completing an internship and working for a year, Mathur planned to pursue a doctorate in the United States. NC State was one of the schools on her application list, but Mathur recalls that she knew very little about the university.
When Mathur stepped foot on NC State’s campus for the first time in 2003, it was during the summer. Before the fall semester began, she knocked on door after door in the then-named College of Textiles. She was looking for job opportunities and ways to jump into research. It wouldn’t take long to experience what many people will tell you about the college: It’s a family, and professors are committed to helping students succeed.
“I felt like professors were genuinely helping,” Mathur says.
She knew that without funding, pursuing a doctorate would be a big challenge. What she didn’t know was that she would ultimately complete six projects during her doctoral program. Making connections with professors fueled her success.
“My advisor appointed me to different projects,” Mathur says. “That means I achieved interdisciplinary experience with my Ph.D.”
She believes this diversity of experience, including her time as a research and teaching assistant, prepared her well for the industry environment. When Mathur graduated with her doctorate from the college, she hit the ground running and started her career.
Never too far from home
Mathur’s first job after graduation was with Precision Fabrics Group in Greensboro, North Carolina. She served as the research and development technical manager for the healthcare products division for almost eight years. In her role, she developed technical textiles for healthcare and medical applications. Mathur stayed with the company for nearly a decade.
Although she was in Greensboro, she always stayed close to the university.
“It was like I never left,” she says.
From helping with Senior Design projects to keeping in touch with faculty, NC State became an even larger part of her story. She encourages students to also stay connected — no matter the destination of their next job.
Mathur had one more industry stop before returning to her alma mater. She took on the role of general manager of innovation and patents at Welspun USA. Mathur gave brands a boost by helping them take their patented technology to the next level. In this role, she had an up-close look at the business side, too.
Between her two industry positions, Mathur had gained experience in areas ranging from healthcare textiles to home textiles. Her former professors were taking notice, too.
She often received invitations to apply to the college, but she always had one word in mind: responsibility. If Mathur took a job as a professor, it would be a long-term position.
“If I take this job, I’m sticking with it,” Mathur says about her decision-making process. “You cannot mentor without first considering a commitment.”
To Mathur, being a professor is more than a job. It’s a commitment to students, and she accepted the challenge with careful consideration. Saying “yes” was a family decision, and Mathur is happy that she never went too far from the place she calls “home.”
She is the go-to expert in her field. Mathur recently joined Associate Professor Anne Porterfield and graduate student Jasmine Jackson to lend her expertise to a first-of-its-kind program in the college. The group created a fashion program for middle school students with the support of a grant from the NC State Office of Outreach and Engagement.
Stepping outside of school
Today, when asked about career advice, Mathur is ready to share it with her students. She encourages students to take what they learned, explore industry and apply their skills.
“Industry challenges you to take a step forward from what’s beyond that lab space,” Mathur says.
She hopes students remain open to exploring different experiences. In her situation, her advisor came from industry and had plenty of first-hand information to share.
Before deciding on the next career choice, learn about the different options, Mathur says. Take advantage of hands-on opportunities to see how your research can be applied in real-world scenarios. In Mathur’s career, she had the opportunity to take everything that she learned and put it to the test.
“I did exactly what I learned during my degree programs — B.S., M.S., Ph.D.,” she says.
Mathur’s career started with a detour to industry. It’s one that she highly recommends, and it’s a decision that left her with no regrets.