When she was 4, Sarah Needy solemnly told her grandmother she was going to "spend my life chasing tornadoes."
When she was 11, she asked one of her older sisters what cause earthquakes, "because they fascinated me."
A decade later, the diminutive IUPUI softball star has another career goal in mind: spending her life studying volcanoes.
No, laughs the earth sciences major, a senior in the Purdue School of Science at IUPUI, "I don't have a death wish. I just love knowing things about our planet, our weather and what makes it all work."
Those who know her well aren't surprised that Needy is avidly pursuing a career in the sciences. She was among IUPUI's "Top 100" Students for the 2005-06 academic year, is a two-time Academic All Mid-Continent Conference selection, was named to IUPUI's Academic Advisors honor list in each of her first six semesters on campus, and was the valedictorian of her class at Whiteland High School, a suburban school system south of Indianapolis.
"She's driven," says IUPUI softball coach Maggie Calcaterra of the youngest of four children of Edward and Kathy Needy. "A lot has to do with her home life; she was brought up to take charge, to do things herself." Her advisor in the School of Science, Andrew Barth, has been impressed by Needy's discipline and ability to excel academically despite the rigors of practices, workouts and games, including lengthy road trips.
"As a teacher, you love to have students like Sarah, kids who want to go beyond the minimum required to pass a class," Barth adds. "She makes you raise your game, so to speak, because she wants to learn all you have to teach."
"Volcanology has always interested me," says Needy. "I'd like to get into forecasting eruptions, to help keep people safe, then watch a good show!" To pursue that dream, she plans to get her master's degree at IUPUI, then pursue a PhD out west, in the heart of America's volcano country. Needy is intrigued by a career with the U.S. Geological Service, or by working "in the Cascade Mountains or overseas, anywhere there are lots of volcanoes," but also believes a career in research and teaching at the college level would fit.
Mostly, she wants "a career tied to geology, something I've wanted since I was a senior in high school."
As passionate as she is about geology, the path hasn't been a cakewalk. "It was a lot harder than I expected," she says. "But you have to step it up, and if you do, you get a lot back in return."
She appreciates the commitment of her IUPUI instructors. "As a student, you feel good to have faculty who care so much about what they do," she says. "It's hard not to share that kind of feeling. We get a lot of individual attention to go with the high expectations they have of us — you really want to succeed and make them proud." As with many IUPUI schools and programs, internships are an important part of the landscape for the earth sciences program. Needy took advantage of one such opportunity and headed west to work at the Southern California Earthquake Center (SCEC) between her sophomore and junior years at IUPUI.
"It was a great chance to work with my future peers, with leaders in the field, and doing the work I want to spend my life doing," she says with a smile. "I got to know several kids just like me, and have stayed in touch with several of them."
She's been able to follow up on her work with the SCEC back at IUPUI, studying the rock samples she helped collect along California fault lines in Joshua Tree National Park — an example of the field of igneous petrology, or the study of rocks formed from molten material.
Needy knows the shape of her future, but she isn't quite ready to give up her present, especially on the softball diamond.
"Softball is a passion for me, too," says the veteran center fielder, who twice has earned second-team all-league honors. "It's a great outlet for my competitive side, and when things get too intense, I can always grab my geology stuff and get lost in them. Of course," she laughs, "when things get too stressful in class, there's no release like hitting something really, really hard with a metal bat!"
She was good at the sport from the time she first picked up a bat and glove.
"I was a starter from day one, and usually was lucky enough to be an all-star in my league," she says.
The 5-foot-6 speedster, among the leaders in Jaguars history in stolen bases and triples, was equally successful in both, was recruited by other colleges, including Big Ten schools, but chose IUPUI for reasons both academic and athletic.
"I knew a couple of girls on the team, which was part of the attraction," she says. "So was being able to stay close to home and have family nearby. But mostly, it was the combination of a chance to play Division I softball and a good academic program in my field that drew me here."
It's been an enjoyable — and memorable — experience. "Without a doubt, I'll remember our dance parties on the bus," she giggles. "We put on a CD, everybody starts dancing — anything you can shake your booty to!"
Calcaterra believes that Needy and her senior teammates are gearing up for a big finish to their college careers.
"One of the things I want them to focus on is helping the underclassmen, to help our younger players along the way they got help when they came here," says the coach.
Needy is ready for the challenge.
"We want to play well, to go out with a bang," she says of the spring season, which launches Feb. 24 at Bradley and — she hopes — will end with the Jaguars earning a trip to the Mid-Continent Conference tournament in May. "It's our chance to make our mark."