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Play like an engineer

It’s 5 a.m. and while many other students are still sleeping, student-athletes are on the track, in the gym or on the field — maximizing the mechanics of their bodies to outperform their opponents. During practice their thoughts range from how they need to adjust their body while running so wind resistance doesn’t slow them down to how their body is functioning like gears to make them run, jump and react as quickly as possible.

Story by Adrianne Uphold, Multimedia Specialist
Photography provided by WVU Athletics

Not many outside college athletics understand what it takes to be a student-athlete — from the time commitments, travel and the management skills needed to balance competition and academic demands, student-athletes have trained for years to handle this level of responsibilities.

Hundreds of students at West Virginia University thrive under pressure by being a part of WVU Athletics. Student-athletes who pursue careers in engineering must balance their rigorous athletic and academic schedules to succeed in engineering and sports, and they have found that engineering has helped them perform better in their sport.

Four collegiate student-athletes majoring in engineering at the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources share their stories of personal triumphs, hardships and how they...

Play like an engineer, maximizing the mechanics and performance of an athlete

Zara Zervos

WVU Track & Field
Sophomore Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Major

Moundsville, WV, native

Zara Zervos

When Zara Zervos was born, her parents — Ted and Shawna Zervos — bought a running stroller. Her father started running with Zervos in the stroller when she was only three days old.

“That was how my whole life was like growing up, going on runs with my parents,” Zervos said. “Once I was old enough to start running with them, that became a big part of our family bonding; we go out in the mornings and run together, and we always did that together as a family.”

Staying active has played a significant part in her family and life routine. Zervos has always been an athlete — she started playing soccer before she could remember, and she began competing in the sixth grade in the sport that would take her to collegiate athletics at WVU.

Zervos attended John Marshall High School in Moundsville, WV, where she held the position of cross-country captain. She quickly became a star in her high school track career — holding records for the 800-meter and 1600-meter races at John Marshall. She ran for the cross-country team in the All-Ohio Valley Athletic Conference in 2017, 2018 and 2019. She also finished ninth in the All-State Cross Country meet in 2018 and 10th in 2020.

Zara Zervos running

As Zervos finished high school, she saw the potential within herself to take this love of running and competitiveness to the next level at WVU. But it wasn’t just the adrenaline from running that attracted Zervos to cross country and track — being able to compete as a team while being ranked as an individual allowed her to have the team bonding and support she desired while pushing herself individually.

“You get a score as a team, you get a place as a team and you’re going to meet as a team,” Zervos said. “But ultimately, it’s just you against your time from the past. So, I liked the idea that I could be part of a team and we could support one another, but then no matter how good or bad the team is, I can still represent myself by beating my last time.”

For Zervos, picking mechanical and aerospace engineering as her major came naturally because of the exposure she had in middle school at an engineering challenge camp offered by Statler College. The camp introduced young middle school girls like Zervos to engineering careers, which made her realize she could take her passion for math and apply it to any job in engineering. The variety of engineering programs offered at the Statler College also piqued Zervos’s interest. The possibility of earning a dual degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering encouraged her to explore both programs.

“Aerospace is the perfect opportunity for me to be able to design equipment that would help humans travel and explore space more, like designing rovers and rockets,” Zervos said.

Balancing her academic and athletic schedule is not an easy task. Still, she attributes the time management skills she’s developed over the years to sticking to a schedule that allows her enough time to study during the week while also being able to split up her training in between classes. The cross country and track team typically meet on Tuesday mornings to exercise together, and then Zervos’s training for the rest of the week is dependent on her schedule.

“On Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, I find a time that fits well into my schedule to do my hour-long run,” Zervos said. “I like how our training is set up because it allows me to split up my day. If I’m working on homework or studying and need a break, I can go on my run, and it clears my mind, so I feel refreshed when I’m back working.”

Zervos also attributes balancing cross country and track to the persistence and discipline skills she’s developed from her engineering courses.

“Persistence and discipline are a big part of engineering that keeps me focused,” Zervos said. “A big part of engineering is if you make a design and it doesn’t work, you have to go back in to see what you did wrong, fix it and be willing to keep going to make something work. That’s exactly how I treat my meets; I have to be willing to fix what went wrong.

“You need persistence and discipline to succeed in cross country, too. Even if I have a bad race one day, I have to be willing to see what went wrong. Then, I ask myself, how can I make it better? What do I change for next time? Being persistent to not give up on engineering or my sport matters a lot to me,” she continued.

Zervos has become fascinated by the correlation between mechanical engineering and her sport through her exposure to engineering concepts in her classes. Thinking about the mechanics of her legs and how they work to make her move faster or how wind resistance can impact her performance gives Zervos a cutting-edge advantage over other players who aren’t approaching their sport like an engineer.

“I've thought about how there’s so much correlation between engineering and my sport, which has helped me think strategically when I'm about to race.”

“When taking physics, we would talk about resistance and I would think about running on the track,” Zervos said. “On a track, you’re running into the wind, which is slowing you down, and that’s the same thing that happens to planes.”

As Zervos starts her sophomore year at WVU, she is thinking about her career outside of the Statler College and what this journey will entail for her. She hopes to design rovers or rockets in the future to assist in sending humans to space.


Simone Knight

Mechanical Engineering

Max Tretheway

Civil Engineering


Grace Cronen

Fundamentals of Engineering

Mayley Guitard

Fundamentals of Engineering

Ava Milano

Fundamentals of Engineering

Brayden Dudley

WVU Football

Sophomore Mechanical Engineering Major
Buford, GA, native

Brayden Dudley

Brayden Dudley is waking up for his first practice of the day at 5 a.m. with the WVU football team at Milan Puskar Center. He has a long day filled with training, class and studying, so staying to his strict schedule is imperative to his success as a defensive lineman and mechanical engineering major.

Following 6 a.m. practice with his team, Dudley heads off to the Evansdale area of campus to catch his back-to-back mechanical engineering classes. Over the years, Dudley has fine-tuned his time management skills to stick to a schedule that allows him just enough time to master his performance on and off the field. A lot of help comes from the team behind Dudley, like his academic adviser Blake, who helps him prepare his class schedules.

“It’s harder trying to balance study hall and tutoring than it is balancing classes in between practice because I have a lot of people here at WVU helping me like my academic adviser who schedules my classes for early morning, so they don’t conflict with my practice,” Dudley said. “I have multiple tutoring sessions each week, so, I carve out time for those. Balancing time with school and time to do football work like extra workouts or getting extra meals to help me gain weight has trained me to balance my time management of all the necessary things I need to do as a football player.”

Brayden Dudley in motion on the football field during a game.

Dudley’s dedication to his passions has maximized his abilities as a football player and engineer. He was a redshirted freshman, a practice of holding athletes from official competition for one season. Players still work out with the team, get conditioning and receive academic tutoring but do not begin using their eligibility until their redshirt year is over. Dudley was the WVU Defensive Scout Champion for Iowa State and the WVU Special Teams Scout Champion for Virginia Tech.

While in high school, Dudley finished his senior season with 16 tackles, including 11 solos, one sack, one tackle for loss and a quarterback hurry. He’s ranked as a three-star prospect by ESPN, Rivals and 247Sports; ranked as the No. 73 player in Georgia by ESPN, No. 95 by 247Sports and No. 98 by Rivals; and ranked as the No. 65 strong-side defensive end in the nation by 247Sports and the No. 81 defensive end by ESPN.

Now two years into his academic career at the Statler College, Dudley attributes his new critical thinking skills to his engineering classes, which he says have helped him outperform others and think strategically while on the field.

“It’s helped me for football, to be able to think on my feet and react to a very changing environment so quickly,” Dudley said. “I’ve learned to adapt to all these different things from what I’ve learned in the engineering and STEM courses because being able to think about things more strategically, while not losing focus, is really what engineers do.”

“Having an engineering thought process has helped me think strategically on the field.”

“I always think about staying two steps ahead of the other team. If I know what the team is about to bring on me, then I can go about it a different way. If I know their course of action, I can read it a little bit better to where I’m able to react to different scenarios that might happen on the field. Having an engineering thought process has helped me think strategically on the field,” he continued.

Dudley has also learned how to handle challenging situations through engineering by being more organized, consistent and intentional in his work.

“Engineering has set me up to organize myself a lot better. If there’s any form of clutter going on in my school or personal life, it’s really hard to maintain the proper schedule I need,” Dudley said. “You need a lot of discipline to do well in football and engineering and to handle both programs. If you’re disciplined in every single workout or class and every single project, it becomes easier to handle your workload.”

In the future, Dudley has dreams of pursuing a career in the National Football League, or potentially starting his own engineering consulting company that focuses on improving the efficiency and processes of other companies.


Deonte Malone

Fundamentals of Engineering

Colin McBee

Fundamentals of Engineering

Lauren Musbach

WVU Swim & Dive
Junior Biomedical Engineering Major

Cleveland, OH, native

Lauren Musbach

Since the time Lauren Musbach started competitive swimming at eight years old, she has written her thoughts in journals to keep her motivated and determined to achieve her goals as a member of the WVU Women’s Swim and Dive team and biomedical engineering major.

“I’m on my seventh swim journal in my life, and I will write absolutely everything in there,” Musbach said. “I write every single goal that I have for myself, I create daily goals, long-term goals, and then I will write a plan on how I’m going to proceed to achieve my goals. Writing about the goals I set for myself has motivated me to do well over the years.”

Musbach sets goals for herself in her swim journal at the beginning of each semester and the start of a season. Musbach said her parents and her first swim coach, Rick Stacy, instilled goal-setting, confidence and determination in her while she was young to continue to set the bar high for herself. Musbach’s swim journals and family have helped her achieve goals like placing eighth overall in the 400-meter individual medley race at the Big 12 Championships, where she received a time of 4:28:23 as a freshman.

Lauren Musbach

She also appeared in the B finals of the 200 fly with a time of 2:03.55, and she placed 10th at Conference Championships. While competing against Notre Dame, she finished second in the 400 individual medley (4:27.58), fifth in the 200 fly (2:03.81) and eighth in the 200 back (2:05.62). She received second place in the 200 fly, touching the wall in 2:05.23 in WVU’s season-opening meet at Pitt and also competed in the 200-medley relay (6th – 1:48.75) and the 400 individual medley (4th – 4:29.48).

Musbach uses the conceptualizing skills she’s learned from the Statler College by keeping her engineering mindset on when she hits the water, focusing on improving her performance throughout the race.

“Keeping my engineering mindset while I'm competing has transformed how I perform during my sport.”

“Keeping my engineering mindset while I’m competing has transformed how I perform during my sport,” Musbach said. “If I’m not feeling good with how I’m performing or if I had a weird prelim during my first race, I’m constantly thinking about how to improve that in my finals. I think to myself, ‘What can I tweak? What looked off or felt off during the race in the morning?’ Some things I especially look for are how can I recover differently and what details can I fix for the next time I’m in that race.”

She attributes the Statler College for changing how she thinks when problems arise in her race. Her courses and professors have taught her how to think about a problem from all angles, so she finds the best solution to the issue.

“The two programs combined have given me so many different life skills I wouldn’t have without experiencing both programs,” Musbach said. “Statler has helped me think about each problem thoroughly and having a problem-solving skill set will help me in my future career. Swimming has given me so much grit in life, and I know I can get through anything that frustrates me.”

The biomedical engineering major said she has always been interested in the medical field. She realized this major was meant for her because she wanted to invent products that could one day improve the way athletes feel, function and work. She decided to attend WVU because it was close to her home in Cleveland, OH, and because it was one of the only schools she was interested in that offered her major.

“I think something incredible I would like to do one day is pairing athletes with prosthetics or improving prosthetics somehow,” Musbach said. “Improving the sports industry, in general, would be exciting to me, especially because I know how important it is to be on top of your game. Also, it would be cool to help others reach their full potential.”

Musbach is interested in following her career in biomedical engineering and plans to switch career paths into medical sales eventually. Musbach encourages high school students interested in engineering and continuing a sport during college to follow their passions in both programs.

“Don’t let the sport stop you from doing the major you want to, and don’t let the major stop you from following your passions in sports,” Musbach said. “Make sure you have a good study strategy from high school because my biggest adjustment was the amount of studying that I have to do. You can accomplish anything if you have a good study strategy coming into college.”

Swimming & Diving

Maverick Bray

Fundamentals of Engineering

Jason Bunn

Fundamentals of Engineering

Glenn Eloriaga

Fundamentals of Engineering

Miranda Kirtley

Fundamentals of Engineering

Kaelyn McClain

Biomedical Engineering

Dylan Melin

Aerospace Engineering

Tatu Peyerl

Biomedical Engineering

Ellie Gardner

WVU Track & Field
Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering Alum

Williamstown, WV, native

Ellie Gardner

For pole vaulter Ellie Gardner, the decision to come to WVU was rooted in family ties. Her older sister, Madelin Gardner, is also a pole vaulter, a former WVU Track and Field All-American athlete and school record holder. Both sisters graduated from Statler College with degrees in biomedical engineering and aerospace and mechanical engineering. Having an older sister invested in engineering and pole vaulting encouraged Gardner to follow in her sister’s footsteps.

“I got into pole vaulting because my first coach knew I did gymnastics for years, and in high school he recruited my older sister and then me a few years later,” Gardner said. “I always wanted to go to WVU since I’m a native West Virginian but having my sister pole vault at WVU before me allowed me to see what it was going to be like prior to committing.”

Gardner has made a name for herself in the pole-vaulting world over the last five years. In the 2020-21 season, she finished first place in the pole vault competition at the Thundering Herd Invitational with a personal and team season best of 3.70 meters, and she finished second place at the Marshall Classic with a height of 3.55 meters. She played on the Academic All-Big 12 First Team, placed first at the Mountaineer Classic with a height of 3.75 meters and during the 2019-20 season she finished the season ranked No. 5 in the pole vault on the all-time indoor program top-five list.

Engineering runs in the Gardner family. Her father, Jeff Gardner, is a mechanical engineer and encouraged Gardner to follow the mechanical route. She decided to enroll in the dual aerospace and mechanical program to also explore her interests in the aerospace side of engineering.

“I always knew I wanted to do engineering and being able to do a dual major and come out with two degrees within five years was a perfect opportunity and too good to pass up,” Gardner said. “I’ve loved my time here. It’s not easy. It’s tough, and it’s been a rigorous experience being here, but it’s really satisfying. Statler offers a lot of hands-on experiences, like having classes that allowed me to apply everything I’ve learned from aerospace or mechanical into a real-world situation.”

There are three aspects of Gardner’s life that she heavily focuses on: engineering, track and her social life. The key to success she’s found as an engineer and student-athlete has been maintaining a strict balance between all three important parts and recognizing when she needed breaks.

“It’s about time management and getting things done during the times that it needs to be done,” Gardner said. “Engineering homework isn’t going to take 10 minutes — it’s going to take a few hours or a few days. You have to decide what’s important to you. Doing well in school and doing well in athletics was most important to me, so some weekends I had to spend time doing homework when my friends were doing something else, but I was determined.”

Ellie Gardner going over the bar during a pole vault competition.

Since pole vaulting is such a technical sport, Gardner has thought about how engineering influences the way she’s able to thrust herself over the pole several feet in the air. The angles in which Gardner needs to jump up into the air and push herself over the pole remind her of the concepts she’s learned in physics and material science.

“There’s a lot of engineering concepts I can think about while I'm trying to get myself over the bar.”

“The poles are made out of fiberglass and you’re trying to get as much power out of it as you can as you go over the bar, it’s all about angles in material science,” Gardner said. “They’ve used pole vault or high jump as examples in my physics classes to talk about how the pole vaulters skid over at the top and how your center of gravity is focused on getting over the bar. There’s a lot of engineering concepts I can think about while I’m trying to get myself over the bar.”

As an alum, Gardner looks back on her time at Statler College and in WVU athletics with fond memories with her teammates and other students in engineering projects. Following graduation in May 2022, Gardner joined the aircraft engine design and auxiliary power units company Pratt & Whitney, where she will focus on system controls, modeling and simulation.


Megan Weaver

Biomedical Engineering


Visnu Pandian

Fundamentals of Engineering


Camilla Bossi

Fundamentals of Engineering


Tommy Beam

Fundamentals of Engineering

Skylar King

Fundamentals of Engineering

Robby Porco

Computer Science


Nick Cicciarelli

Fundamentals of Engineering

Michael Dolan

Computer Engineering

Brian Finnerty

Fundamentals of Engineering

Nathan Wickersham

Mechanical Engineering