A Well-Rounded Future: Engineering Student Balances Academics and Athletics

Student athlete and Civil Engineering major, Abigail Valley, has skillfully mastered a full, demanding college schedule while heading into her senior year at Embry-Riddle.

Abigail Valley posing for Cross Country and Track & Field. (Photo: Embry-Riddle)
Abigail Valley posing for Cross Country and Track & Field. (Photo: Embry-Riddle)

Civil Engineering student Abigail Valley ('24) is leaving her mark at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University as she skillfully balances demanding academics and extracurricular activities, all while being a student-athlete in both Cross Country and Track & Field.

Finding Her Place

Valley, a Massachusetts native, was looking for a university to call home where she could prioritize cross country and track & field, while also earning an education in a field that she feels passionate about.

“I originally found out about Embry-Riddle because it's one of the top schools for Aerospace Engineering. That’s one of main reasons why I picked it. Some other reasons I chose Embry-Riddle were because I liked the size of the school, the location by the beach and I'm on the cross country and track & field team, so I was in contact with the coach during my high school years. After stepping foot on the campus and meeting the team, Embry-Riddle just felt like the right fit for me,” Valley said with a smile.

It all started to come together for Valley. She knew earning an engineering degree at Embry-Riddle would allow her to gain access to faculty experts, earn industry experiences and ultimately prepare her for real-world engineering success.

Challenging Yourself

Valley started as an aerospace engineering student but knew deep down that she had an interest and desire for architecture and the environment, so she began looking into the civil engineering route.

“I started off as an Aerospace Engineering major but switched to Civil Engineering because I’ve always been interested in architecture and wanted to study the structures found in civil engineering. It took me a little bit to make the decision because I was scared to fall behind, but since starting civil engineering, I've realized there are a multitude of different paths I can take that I didn’t even know about,” she expressed. “Some of those have environmental aspects tied in, so I've been becoming more invested in the environmental parts of civil engineering.”

Finding a Balance

Since arriving at Embry-Riddle, Valley’s journey as a student athlete has set a highly demanding pace, allowing her to learn how to juggle extracurriculars while keeping up with scholarly success.

“I do cross country and track — all three seasons — so I'm always busy. Coming in as a freshman during the start of COVID-19 made it much easier to adjust to the demand. It felt more low maintenance than it is now, so it was a good process to get a routine down and stick to a schedule,” she continued. “It keeps me in check and motivates me, while also helping me focus on eating healthy and getting good sleep. I feel like if I wasn’t running, I wouldn’t be thinking how much that stuff affects you, but now it is something that I must focus on and prioritize.”

Campus Involvement

As Valley found her place at Embry-Riddle through her studies, she decided it was time to get involved on campus in other ways.

Alongside Cross Country and Track & Field, Valley joined the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) chapter at Embry-Riddle last year and she says it has been a great learning experience.

“Every year we attend the 2023 ASCE Southeast Student Symposium where many different colleges and universities from all over Florida attend. Within our club, we get into groups and all work on different projects. In one of the groups that I was in, we were working on an innovation contest. We had to come up with a sustainable idea to solve some of the issues we have in the U.S. with water through problems of replacing and recycling it,” she explained.

“It is beneficial because there aren't many environmental classes offered through civil engineering, but doing the project got me into studying other topics in environmental engineering. I learned a lot through that contest, and it was really inspiring to go to the conference with other like-minded students and see everyone's great ideas.”

Although challenging at times, Valley has done exceptionally well while balancing her education, athletics, extracurriculars and social life, all while having two jobs—one as a server at a local restaurant and the other working for the ICI ticket office and events.

Summer Research

Valley dove into a collaborative study in the Sustainability and Environmental Engineering Laboratory (SEEL) with other like-minded students from Embry-Riddle and Johns Hopkins University to monitor ozone concentrations, a criteria pollutant, in the atmosphere across the U.S to see how it’s changed over the last six years.

“We’re taking data collected by aero-monitoring systems around the country and doing data analysis on it. Once we complete our part of the data analysis, we send it off to Johns Hopkins University, where they analyze our data and add it to it,” she continued. “I really enjoy math, so doing data analysis means I’m working with a lot of numbers, and I got extremely comfortable using Excel, which will help me a lot in the future.”

She added: “Working along with other students and Dr. Marwa El-Sayed this summer has been great. I have only had her for one other class, so it was cool getting to know her outside of the classroom setting. It kind of reminds you that your professors aren't just professors— it's nice to get to know them on a different level. I also got to learn more about using the SEEL lab and I'm excited to do more with it in the future.”

Launching a Successful Future

The Civil Engineering program has given her the knowledge and hands-on experience to dive into future career endeavors – and wherever the civil engineering industry takes her next – with confidence.

The right path for your future may not always be clear right away, and often, incoming students can enter college without a clear vision for what their future will look like. Valley suggests, “If you're having doubts about your major, really think about it and if you want to switch, do it early. I did it two years in, but I was switching from Engineering to Engineering, so it didn’t knock me back too much, but if it’s someone who is looking to change fields, do it early.”