As a child, Sarah Hack found herself drawn to the task of optimization. She would try to find the most efficient route to school given the time of day, or optimize space to fit her things in her family’s car when packing for vacation. 

Hack, from Kingston, New York, participated in a Women in STEM event session in high school led by an industrial engineer. After learning about the engineer’s experiences, she was amazed that the work of optimizing complex systems pertaining to everyday tasks was a career. Once she decided to attend Virginia Tech, her major in industrial and systems engineering was an obvious choice.

During Hack’s junior year, she was intrigued by the innovative research being conducted by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) and wanted to get involved. She liked the idea of applying her Virginia Tech education to addressing the real-world challenges that are facing local, regional, and national communities. Hack contacted Charlie Klauer, associate professor in industrial and systems engineering and research scientist for VTTI, and shortly thereafter started working under Klauer’s advisement as an undergraduate researcher. 

Hack’s research consisted of evaluating data from a naturalistic driving study conducted on adolescents’ engagement in high-risk driving behavior, specifically with regard to seatbelt use, weather conditions, lighting conditions, and secondary task engagement. 

“Sarah was diligent in making the trek to VTTI to perform the data coding that needed to be completed, even though it is a tedious process,” said Klauer. “She not only remained committed to the project, but she was also detail-oriented, recorded additional information that proved very useful for the final results, and had a great experience.”

Last summer, Hack gained a global perspective on business and manufacturing operations as she interned for Rolls-Royce Aerospace in the United Kingdom. While there, she lived out the Hokie motto of Ut Prosim (That I May Serve) and volunteered her time to lead STEM workshops for a local grade school in England. 

Previous opportunities at Ingersoll Rand in Buffalo, New York, and M&E Manufacturing Company in Kingston, New York, also helped Hack garner real-world knowledge and skills.

Hack’s leadership and community service roles outside of the classroom include serving as the curriculum committee head for the Industrial and Systems Engineering Ambassadors and as the director of corporate relations for the Virginia Tech chapter of the Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers. She also emerged as a leader in Alpha Pi Mu, the Industrial and Systems Engineering Honor Society, advised by Kimberly Ellis, associate professor in industrial and systems engineering. Hack currently serves as treasurer, in which she assists with numerous events and programs. 

“As an officer, she is proactive, efficient, and reliable,” said Ellis. “She goes above and beyond the requirements of her position, she enhances the organization through her contributions, and she also indirectly influences other officers to excel.”

Additionally, Hack is an active member of Alpha Omega Epsilon, the professional women’s engineering sorority, which focuses on professionalism, service, and sisterhood. Through Alpha Omega Epsilon, Hack volunteers at the local food pantry and animal shelter in Blacksburg throughout the semester. She also raises money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

Her other community service activities include volunteering as an elementary school activity leader and with the Virginia Tech Running Club, and participating in other events like the Big Event, Relay for Life, and Greeks Giving Back.

Service has always been an important and immensely positive part of Hack’s life. She grew up in an area with a lot of poverty and need, which ignited her drive to give back. 

“Volunteering has provided me a deeper sense of perspective and has allowed me to meet some truly inspiring individuals,” said Hack. “Whether it be assisting at a food pantry, introducing grade school students to the STEM field, or helping organize a running race for a good cause, I am glad to use my skills and experiences to benefit those less fortunate than myself. At the end of the day, that is what life is all about.”

Hack’s deep commitment to service and her rich and diverse educational experiences earned her the 2020 Institute of Industrial Engineers' James W. Barany Student Award for Excellence. According to the agency’s website, the national award recognizes undergraduate students who, since the beginning of their junior year, have distinguished themselves through excellence of scholarship and campus leadership. The award singles out those who have brought distinction to industrial engineering at their institution.

Hack is also the recipient of the Robert D. Dryden Outstanding Senior Award for the Grado Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering. The award is presented annually to a senior who demonstrates academic excellence as well as service to the department, the university, and the community. 

“As a female in a male-dominated field, I strive to encourage and inspire women in STEM,” said Hack. “I understand how important it is for women to feel confident in their field to be successful.”

Hack will head to Atlanta, Georgia, after graduation. She is joining Fortna as a global operations design analyst. Going forward, she hopes to continue her connection with Virginia Tech and her involvement in professional and philanthropic organizations. 

Written by Linda Hazelwood

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