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Curiosity, Passion for Science Education Fuel Judy Elson’s Career

Judy Elson

By Ali Early

Turning what you are passionate about into a career is rare, but this is exactly what Judy Elson has done through her time at the Wilson College of Textiles

Elson graduated from NC State with a B.S. in botany and a B.S. in conservation of natural resources in 1980. Currently, she is a chemistry and microscopy laboratory manager in the Department of Textile Engineering, Chemistry and Science.

As many students of the Wilson College can attest, Elson’s commitment and enthusiasm for the chemistry and microscopy labs she conducts has deepened their knowledge on a variety of topics. In her role as a lab manager, Elson is responsible for leading a multidisciplinary laboratory space that facilitates student design and educational projects in pursuit of their undergraduate degrees. She allows her students the unique opportunity to apply what they learn in the classroom to a real-world laboratory setting.

Elson says that her curiosity when it comes to learning new skills has fueled her professional experiences. 

“I have always been interested in the farm to finished product idea and enjoy being involved in preparatory processes,” she explains.

Over the years, Elson has enrolled in multiple classes at the Crafts Center such as hand weaving and spinning, which initially sparked her interest in the realm of textiles. At one point, she even grew her own flax so she could be involved in the process of creating linens from start to finish.

Before beginning at the college in 2003, Elson worked for a nonprofit organization that partnered with public elementary schools to develop appropriate science-related educational programs for students. Prior to this, she worked at NC State researching the effects of air pollution on agriculture. This was where she became interested in the research component of her position and the application of the scientific method. 

Given her previous professional experiences in the nonprofit and science education sectors, and her interest in fabrics and weaving, a position at the college seemed like an ideal fit.

Elson has been an influential figure for her students and colleagues alike. She has aimed to cultivate meaningful relationships with students and help them discover their passions both inside and outside of the lab. 

She says she is especially proud of being able to assist students in recognizing what they need in terms of research and resources. 

“I enjoy helping people learn what options are available to them when they are doing their research,” Elson says. “With the students I have come across, I like showing them why things work the way they do. Especially with the microscopes, I enjoy teaching students the physics of what you see with a microscope and what type of microscope you need to look at to get the data that you want for a project.”

Likewise, she is proud of how she developed her position into more of a teaching role. Initially when Elson began the position, there was not a teaching element. But, in time, Elson realized how much she enjoyed being involved in mentoring and learning from students. Eventually, she added the microscopy component to the position as well, which enriched not only the experiences of students but also her time at the college.

One of Elson’s favorite aspects of the college is the diversity. She says she has genuinely valued being exposed to people of different backgrounds through her relationships with students and faculty. Based on her time at the college, she stated that she would like to pursue more relationships with people from different places and cultures.

When asked what advice she would give a student interested in entering the textile industry, Elson affirmed that although it is important to have a foundational understanding of the field, it is also important to acknowledge that one’s career may not be a straight line. 

“There are so many different paths and opportunities you may come across that you didn’t think were originally possible. You might not know where you are going to end up until you are finally there,” she says.

Elson is a dedicated mother and grandmother. In her retirement, she looks forward to spending more time with her new grandchild. She wants to travel internationally and plans on doing more outdoor activities such as hiking and kayaking. Additionally, she plans to continue honing her craftings skills especially with hobbies such as mosaic work and lapidary.