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From Rio to Raleigh – Olympic Swimmer Ryan Held discusses the College of Natural Resources

Ryan Held holding diploma after graduation ceremony Play Video
Photo courtesy of Ryan Held

Imagine your career on display live for 30,000 people and broadcasted all over the world. Ryan Held, Olympic swimmer and recent graduate of the NC State College of Natural Resources, is not one to buckle under pressure. His strength was tested at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where he won gold in the men’s 4×100 freestyle relay alongside fellow athletes like Michael Phelps.

That strength was recently tested once more as Held stepped up to one of his biggest challenges yet: educating children and families in the Naturalist Center at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.

Held began his internship in the Naturalist Center in August of 2018 with a goal to combine his love for swimming and competing with applied science. He was able to pursue his passion by teaching children about the natural environment and how they connect to human’s everyday lives, but most relevant to him, how animals are best adapted to move through water. He encourages hands-on learning with his students by utilizing the museum’s cart program to create a mock swimming meet between a shark and human. Not surprisingly, the shark won.

The cart program is a demonstration created on a specific topic that each museum employee finds interesting. “My cart is all about hydrodynamics and that comes from my love of swimming and the aquatic environment. I teach about how animals move and propel themselves through the water and what they do to reduce drag and friction in the water, and how we as humans take that information, copy it and use it to make our lives more efficient,” Held said.  

The unique partnership between the College of Natural Resources and the Museum of Natural Sciences allows our students the opportunity to conduct research, network with professionals in their fields and educate the public on important environmental issues.

Held’s internship at the museum was the last leg of an eventful four years at NC State, and on Wednesday, December 19, 2018, Held walked across the stage, completing his B.S. in Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology (FWCB).

Held expressed his gratitude for finding the FWCB program since that wasn’t his initial college career plan. “I was a biochemistry major because I thought I wanted to go into medicine,” he said. But Held quickly realized that studying the smaller things like cells and DNA didn’t align with his passions. “I wanted to study the world,” he said.

Ultimately, Held chose the FWCB program. “I was a boy scout growing up, so I love nature. I love being outdoors. It’s just really been a hands-on major and that’s been the best learning style for me,” Held explained. “You know, you can read about it, but when you actually do it, it’s a world of difference.”

After graduation, Held will dedicate his time to training for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan. However, as he admits, his swimming career can’t last forever. “After swimming, I’d either like to do urban forestry…or work in GIS,” he said.  

We’ll continue cheering Held on in the next two years as he competes and welcome him back to natural resources when he’s ready.