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Designing a Future

Larry Lockett Jr. had a pretty good thing going.

After graduating from Western Carolina University in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in engineering technology, he had immediately gone to work. About three years later, as the job market tightened, Lockett joined the National Guard to continue building his job skills and marketability.

Somewhere along the line, though, he decided that although he enjoys the field of engineering, it’s not his perfect fit.

“After I got a little more into it, I realized it wasn’t quite what I wanted to spend my life doing,” he said. “It’s never too late to start rebuilding a life you love.”

Lockett, 31, started his personal rebuilding project by enrolling in NC State’s industrial design curriculum last fall.

He was happily surprised to receive the Duncan Stuart Scholarship from the College of Design after Tameka Whitaker, the college’s assistant dean of student and academic services, encouraged him to apply for the support.

“So far, I’m really having a ball at the College of Design, even though it’s not easy and there’s some stress,” he said. “It’s an intense program and I was proud even to get in.”

The industrial design program had intrigued Lockett years earlier. After completing his military basic training, while taking a few months to figure out next steps, he did some research and decided to apply. He faced skepticism from a few friends and family members surprised by his decision to return to school for another bachelor’s degree.

But Lockett is excited about the practical possibilities for combining his past education and his civilian and military work experience – which includes skills in working with manufacturers and vendors, researching prototypes and marketing – with his new major. He hopes to start his own three-pronged business, doing direct-to-market product design, selling concepts to other companies and consulting.

Born in Fort Bragg while his father served in the military, Lockett has lived primarily in the Triangle. He was creative growing up, enjoying things like drawing and sketching. As he completed high school, he considered a military career and several different colleges. At Western Carolina, he started dabbling in graphic design and music production.

Melding an engineering technology background, as well as basic skills in 3D printing, laser-cutting, woodworking and more, with his design studies has been “eye-opening and cool.” So far, he’s most interested in creating furniture and novelty decorative items; he built end tables and a chessboard for two studio projects.

“The program prepares you for so many different possibilities,” Lockett said.

Lockett continues to serve in the Army Reserves as an electronics technician, work part time in engineering and do a little freelance graphics work. His wife, also an Army Reservist, is working on her own career change as she studies to become a nurse. They are grateful for gifts supporting NC State fellowships and scholarships.

“There’s a lot on my plate at all times and having the fellowship money really helps ease the burden with things like books and fees, and gives me a little peace of mind,” Lockett said.

Never underestimate what a contribution can do for a student. I’m not a traditional undergraduate and every red cent helps me so much. More people could use a little support and the support is greatly appreciated. It doesn’t have to be money only.”

In fact, getting the chance to spend a few hours with his donors meant a great deal to Lockett.

“I really enjoyed that, and they gave my wife and me some great life advice and motivation,” he said. “They were able to pour wisdom into us and that was great.”

Having benefactors, Lockett said, can buoy students through tough moments – like his first-semester studio class.

“The challenge I was having was that something I designed might work, structurally, but it was not very visually appealing,” he said. “I thought it would be lickety-split that I would be able to combine my past experiences with what I was learning, but it was a struggle. Now, I think it’s really helping me to have the engineering background and more technical knowledge – if you give me some basic design principles, I can start to run with them.

“It’s interesting that some of the other students have the opposite challenge of translating great creative ideas into actually making things, and operating some of the equipment. We can learn from each other.”

Along with his classmates, Lockett credits College of Design faculty members such as Professor Hernán Marchant with helping him work toward success.

“I would say to people, don’t be afraid to think and do – as we say at NC State,” Lockett said. “Don’t let obstructions or circumstances hold you back from your dreams. There’s always a way where there’s a will.”