Ness Balances Competive Athletics and Engineering Course Load

September 15, 2004

By Gabriel Chen, September 2004

Katie NessWho is Katie Ness? A student to some, but to the Duke swimming team, however, she is one of their finest swimmers.

In February 2004, the then-sophomore stunned the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) by winning the 200-yard individual medley event with a time of 2:00.27, a Duke record that also automatically qualified Ness for the National Collegiate Athletic Association ( NCAA) Championships.

Ness is now the first swimmer from Duke to finish first in an ACC Championship event since 1981.

Mention Ness to ACC rivals like Georgia Tech, North Carolina State, and Clemson, and they would probably bemoan the fact that the former state champion from Thomas Worthington High School in Columbus, Ohio, chose Duke instead of them.

Indeed, Ness' decision to swim for Duke was a unique one, simply because the other schools which showed interest in her such as Stanford and Georgia among others, are perennial powers and offer full athletic scholarships for swimming.

"I don’t think I’m fantastically awesome; I just swim for the love of it. I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I swim I feel His pleasure," said Ness, a junior. "I visited Duke during high school, and I somehow knew that it was where I wanted to go. It also helped that my parents and my grandfather went to Duke, as I was raised a Duke basketball fan."

Ness came to Trinity College wanting to major in mathematics and computer science. Though she liked the former, she soon realized that computer science wasn’t her cup of tea.

Katie NessAs a sophomore, Ness took two introductory engineering classes – one on electrical circuits and the other on switch theory. It was then that she fell in love with electrical engineering because it helped to "explain real world things." She transferred to the Pratt School of Engineering at the end of her sophomore year, and is now majoring in electrical engineering with a minor in mathematics.

"I was happy to get the transfer," she said. "My grandfather was also thrilled. He always wanted me to go into engineering. There’re always lots of options for engineers in terms of job opportunities. For example, with an engineering degree, I could work in sales at International Business Machines Corporation (I BM) or go into the more technical aspect of building computers."

Ness won’t be branching out into the field of computer engineering, however.

"I’m going to take courses that deal more with signals, systems and communications, electromagnetic waves, as opposed to computer engineering classes," she said. "I would like to be a professor in electrical engineering someday, so these classes will give me a good foundation."

Briefly allude to the chlorinated waters of the Duke pool, and once again, Ness’ lovely eyes twinkle with delight. A fan of swimmer Natalie Coughlan, who is the gold medalist in the 2004 Olympics, Ness believes the sport has taught her about the value of hard work, perseverance and of time management. These are qualities, she said, that will serve her well as she navigates the demanding engineering courses at Pratt.

"Everything I do, I put all my energy into it. And I put all my energy into swimming. You certainly have your ups and downs in swimming, but when you get through all that, you’ll be so glad that you put your effort into it," she said.

With all the practices and meets that Ness has to attend and prepare for, it is no wonder that she says she has little time for herself.

"The meets can get stressful," she said. "The worst is when I’ve to miss a test or an important lecture for swimming. I always feel so behind when I’ve had to miss something for swimming. I also wish I could go watch more arts-related stuff such as choir performances, but I simply don’t have the time to do so."

Nevertheless, this Ohio native thinks her time at Duke has been nothing short of an awesome experience.

"I’ve definitely learned a lot of about myself and how to respect the views of others," she said. "I came here with high expectations, and Duke has exceeded them totally."