It would be difficult for most people to balance ground-breaking undergraduate research in laser gyroscopes with a history of record-shattering track races, but for Hendrix senior Julie Coats it's just a way of life.
"Sometimes I feel overwhelmed," Julie said, "but there is time for everything. I just have to not let myself waste time."
Julie doesn't seem to have wasted any time during her four years at Hendrix. The Conway native recently received Odyssey Program funding to work with physics professor Robert Dunn on a ring laser gyroscope that measures the earth's rotation as a way of gathering information about geophysical effects such as polar motion and seismic waves.
Julie has been experimenting with the ring laser in the basement of Acxiom Hall at Hendrix, as well as making seismic wave measurements using the largest ring laser in the world, which is located between Conway and Greenbrier.
"The best way to learn physics is by doing physics," said Dunn. "And original research is the most exciting way to do it."
"I learned about optics, geology, engineering, and I even dug a ditch or two," Julie said of her Odyssey experience. She also recently traveled to Los Angeles to present a paper on her research at the annual American Physical Society conference.
Julie has also made significant strides in her athletic career. She holds all the Hendrix track records from 1500-5k, the 4x400, and the XC 5k and 6k record. She was an All American in both the 3000 meter steeplechase in 2005 and in cross country this past fall. At the 2005 South/Southeast Region she was honored as the Female Athlete of the Year.
"Julie is a terrific example of a student-athlete who has really applied herself both academically and athletically, and succeeded marvelously in both areas," said Hendrix Athletic Director Danny Powell. "She has a tremendous work ethic, enjoys what she does and competes fiercely." He added, "It has been a true privilege to watch her develop over four years as a student and as an athlete, and I have all the confidence in the world that she'll keep doing great things after she leaves Hendrix."
Julie's main focus in track now is the steeplechase. Having already run the best time by a Division III athlete last year, she now wants to take the national record.
"I never would have dreamed that I would have had the success in running that I have had here," Julie said. "I think I have learned that sometimes you have to redefine the image you have of yourself as an athlete to see what you are truly capable of."
Julie has also had to redefine herself as a student. "Four years ago I would never have thought that I would end up majoring in physics," she said. "Somehow, I learned to find a sense of satisfaction on working on one problem for five hours and finally figuring out what I did wrong in the second step. It's neat to know the principles behind how everything works!"
Julie spends her time balancing equally impressive careers in both track and physics. She begins every morning with some stretches and a "light run" of 40 to 60 minutes. She then spends nearly seven hours in class, studying or working in the physics lab as a teacher's assistant. From there she goes to a three-hour team practice and finishes the night with five hours of studying in the math lab.
"Sure, I've run somewhere around 4,000 miles in the past 12 months," Julie said. "But all the hard work in the world won't get you anywhere without the people that you lean on when things get hard."
Despite her numerous accomplishments, Julie is quick to praise her friends and teammates. Though she easily won the South/Southeast Regional Championship, for her the best part of the race was having her teammate, Laura Broederdorf, qualify for nationals with her.
She is also surprisingly humble. "In a lot of ways, I think I've just gotten lucky," she said. "I'm lucky to have a great coach, great teammates, and a supportive athletic department ... I feel pretty blessed to be part of the Hendrix community."
Julie currently plans to attend graduate school working toward a Ph.D. in either physics or engineering. Her experiential learning will certainly help her succeed in graduate school, but Julie's Odyssey experience encompasses much more than the grant she received to do scientific research. It's also the 4,000 miles she has run, the numerous records she holds, the countless hours spent in the physics lab and the unfailing drive that she will undoubtedly take with her as she embarks on life after Hendrix.