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Shuffling Lab Reports and Sheet Music: How One Engineering Student Balances Two Passions

The original article appears on the College of Engineering News website.

After a long day of classes or a tough exam, some students might relax by watching a favorite TV show or going to the gym. For Hrishikesh Ram, sitting down at a piano bench for a few hours does the trick. Having this creative outlet is just as important to Ram as his studies.

Ram started piano at 4 years old at the Cary School of Music under the guidance of John Herrmann. As part of a trio with the NC Chamber Music Institute, Ram won an international competition in 2021 that resulted in an invitation to play at Carnegie Hall.

“It was an amazing experience, especially playing on their piano,” Ram said. “It’s often overlooked how a well-maintained piano can make you sound, and it responded so well to various motions I went through.”

While Ram excelled in piano, he wasn’t sure about making a career out of it. Coming to NC State University seemed obvious, as he was interested in engineering and grew up just 15 minutes away in Apex, North Carolina. He selected chemical engineering because of its range of careers.

At NC State, Ram is exploring his interests in physical chemistry, fluid mechanics and thermodynamics, and he is pursuing a music minor to continue his formal piano practice. These studies keep him busy between lab research and recitals.

Ram joined the lab of Professor Westmoreland, before his first year. As an undergraduate research intern, he assists Westmoreland in projects with the Environmental Protection Agency focused on the destruction of polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), or “forever chemicals” commonly found in cleaning products, personal care items and other household items that slowly break down and release harmful chemicals into the environment.

“It’s been a highlight of my time here,” he said. “I’m lucky to be part of such an impactful project where I can apply what I’ve learned so far while still having so much more to learn.”

Meanwhile, Ram has continued to improve on his piano performance under the guidance of Olga Kleiankina, teaching professor of piano. He received the 2022 Performing Artist Award during the Fall 2022 Bowers Medal of the Arts and Student Award Ceremony held by Arts NC State.

“It’s wonderful to see how the arts as a whole have such a thriving community of artists at a technical-oriented college,” he said.

Ram plans to pursue a Ph.D. after graduation. Keeping piano in his life is certain, especially since he has role models who have continued to pursue music despite the direction of their careers.

“It’s a fascinating journey having kept piano in my life for so long,” he said. “It’s definitely something I hope to keep alive no matter where I go.”