For Emma Clarke, there was admittedly a bit of an adjustment period to life at the University of Houston. After all, a metro area with 7.3 million people is quite different than Christchurch, the city of about 381,500 she grew up in on the east coast of New Zealand's South Island.
“It's a huge city, which is hard to get adjusted to,” she said. “The biggest adjustment for me would most likely be that there's always so much to do and see. I've been here five years and I still feel like there's more of the city to see and more that Houston has to offer. That's something I love about living in such a big city.”
However, Clarke thrived at the Cullen College of Engineering, both academically and as a five-year starter for the women's soccer team. After earning her degree following the Fall 2022 semester, she is now an Engineer in Training with Morris + Associates in Cypress.
“Its only been a few months, but I am already looking up to the people I work with,” she said. “They are encouraging and helpful, and make sure that I understand everything they teach me. I'm excited to keep growing and learning as I spend more time with them.”
Clarke was recruited by UH to play soccer, and she said academics were a key factor in her decision.
“I had a few other schools that I was looking at, but I knew I wanted a school with a great engineering program,” she said. “I visited UH and another school in California, and UH really stood out to me as having not only an amazing team and coaching staff, but also as it was a tier one research school. I knew it would have the program and professors I was looking for.”
With the Cougars, Clarke logged 84 appearances and 71 starts across five years. Despite being a defensive back, she still had two goals and three assists in her appearances. She was named to the 2022 Mac Hermann Trophy watch list, the U.S.'s highest individual honor that recognizes the National Player of the Year. She was also named to two All-Conference Second Teams, as well as the 2022 College Sports Communicators Academic All-District Team.
Perhaps more impressively and suggestive of a work ethic that carried over into the classroom, as a fifth-year senior and captain Clarke logged 1,421 minutes in her final season of 16 games – an average of more than 88 minutes per game, an ever-present steadying presence for her team.
“There's definitely a cross over from the pitch to the classroom, as I think most student athletes would agree. You have a lot less time to fit in homework and studying so you tend to learn pretty quickly that procrastination is not really an option,” she said. “Being an athlete taught me about the value of time and how much you can get done in the small window of time that you have. I have always had a strong work ethic in soccer and I always want to perform at the best of my ability, and that definitely transferred to the classroom. During my degree pursuit, I worked hard on every homework assignment and every exam to make sure that I was giving myself the best chance I could at success.”
Clarke noted several positive academic influences in her life, before and during her UH studies.
“My dad was always an academic influence of mine,” she said. “He always made sure to encourage me that it's not the grade that matters, but how much you learn. From this mindset you learn that when you're willing to study to learn and not just studying to get a grade, you enjoy learning and most often end up getting a better grade anyway.”
Outside of engineering at UH, Clarke also identified Thomas S. Teets, associate professor in the Department of Chemistry, as a positive influence for her and a friend.
“My best friend and I had him for courses, and he was also an academic influence. You never realize at the time how much a professor can impact your life, but Professor Teets loves teaching chemistry,” she said. “The way that he was so passionate about his subject matter and how hard he worked to make sure his students understood the material was inspiring, and it made us want to work hard to learn.”
Although Clarke now has her degree, her pursuit of knowledge isn't over. She's absorbing the practical lessons provided by the fieldwork at her firm, as well as studying for the professional exams she needs to pass.
“I'm loving my new job and learning as much as I can,” she said. “At this point I'm focusing on the FE [Fundamentals of Engineering] exam and then the PE [Principles and Practice of Engineering] exam will be my next goal. As I am from an international country, to one day be internationally certified would be the ultimate goal. But for now I am focused on enjoying where I'm at and I'm proud to call myself a Graduate Civil Engineer.”