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Staying in Rhythm

Carl Jenkins in engineering lab

NC State University senior Carl Jenkins initially considered engineering as a potential career because he enjoyed high school math and science. He also knew he wanted to connect with people and solve problems.

As the Greensboro native continued to explore, he found that electrical engineering in particular could tie in nicely with another of his interests: music. He’d been a drum line member in middle and high school, and a degree in electrical engineering could be used in the music world through signal processing.

“Audio engineers that work in music studios use elements from signal processing that we learn in class to master and produce audio tracks,” Jenkins said. “Additionally, I was thinking about acoustics and building amplifiers as another avenue that allows for my music to blend with engineering.”

When he applied to college, he looked for schools with prominent engineering programs as well as those that could provide financial support – something Jenkins said he’d need to attend college.

“It really came down to prestige of the program and financial aid, and NC State won by leaps and bounds,” he said.

At the same time, Jenkins was selected for NC State’s Goodnight Scholars Program, which targets low- and middle-income students from North Carolina studying in the STEM disciplines or affiliated education majors. That program has allowed him to explore and find new passions.

Thanks to the Goodnight program, Jenkins served the local community through STEM nights at elementary schools, as a mentor to incoming freshmen in the program and as a leader of the Goodnight Scholars’ first-year retreat. He was part of a team of Goodnight Scholars who helped code an app for a professor in Arizona and attended an educators conference in Texas with her to present that work.

During Jenkins’ time at NC State, the Goodnight program has continued to grow and evolve, involving more, he said, in terms of mentorship, classroom interaction and community.

“Over time, that just got stronger and stronger,” he said. “Each year the program got more and more diverse – each class looks different, but we all have the same focus and determination.”

This week, Jenkins will graduate with a bachelor of science in electrical engineering with a concentration in renewable electric energy systems, and a minor in percussion music performance.

His focus has changed to power systems, thanks to his experiences at NC State and in the College of Engineering. He has accepted a full-time job as a solutions engineer with Siemens Energy Management in Raleigh, aiming toward a future that includes travel as part of his work.

“I figured out through college that I really like to travel,” Jenkins said.  “So I started looking for jobs that would allow me to do that.”

In addition to his trip to Texas, he spent fall break of his sophomore year in Boston on a cultural immersion trip. Later, he studied abroad in China.

Jenkins performed his junior year engineering co-op at Siemens Energy and saw that an executive there had the opportunity to travel to conventions as part of his role in acquiring new business.

“He had a big technical background in engineering, and he got promoted and could travel and talk to people,” he said. “That became something I kind of set my sights on.”

Though his career focus has shifted, Jenkins’ commitment to music isn’t going away. In addition to his music minor, Jenkins took drum lessons for four semesters and was a member of the NC State Pep Band.

“That was just a constant that I kept when I came to college,” he said. “It’s something that’s important to me – it’s kind of cathartic – and I plan to keep active in drumming.”

He also plans to continue to serve as a mentor and role model to future students. Jenkins joined the NC State Chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers as a freshman and has actively traveled with the group to conventions, served on its executive board and acted as a mentor through NSBE activities.

Though the Goodnight Scholars alumni network is relatively new, he plans to stay involved there as well. Goodnight Scholar alums return to campus for events such as candidate interviews, and they serve as a career network for students currently in the program. Jenkins said he appreciates all that he has received and hopes to pay it forward.

“I’m sure the scholarship has helped me realize my goals – it holds me accountable, and keeps me motivated,” Jenkins said. “I know I’ve definitely had alumni reach out to me and talk about job opportunities. Even if I hadn’t gotten this job, I feel like those connections would have led to a job.”