Jarod Palmer to get ECU engineering degree at age 19

Jarod Palmer grew up riding dirt bikes and four-wheelers.

“I always like going fast,” he said.

A point that will be made abundantly clear on Friday when he graduates from East Carolina University with an engineering degree — at age 19.

Jarod Palmer works on a wave tank as part of his senior capstone project in the high bay of the Science and Technology Building.

Palmer grew up in Youngsville, about 30 miles north of Raleigh, and was home-schooled by his parents, Mike and Dawn Palmer. By the time he was 14, he began taking classes at Vance-Granville Community College, and at age 16, enrolled at ECU. With his community college credits, Palmer was able to complete the requirements for his ECU engineering degree in just three years.

“It’s always been weird,” he said of being so young at ECU. “I lived in the dorms when I was 16 and 17.”

Palmer said his age was not an issue when he arrived at ECU.

“I think it’s the same as everybody else — just living away from home,” he said. “I’d like to think I was pretty mature. I seemed to fit in. Everybody was pretty amazed when they actually learned my age, but it wasn’t really much of a change. I was used to the school part of it because of the community college. It was a bit of adjustment, but being home-schooled, I was used to managing myself and keeping up with my schoolwork by myself, so that part wasn’t too hard.”

He said he would sometimes joke with his older classmates — which includes his older brother and fellow engineering major Wade — about being tired with school, knowing some have another year to go. He gets some good ribbing back.

“They think it’s funny,” he said. “One of my buddies, Tyler House, we’ve been together for most all of our classes and worked our way up together. He’s 21 years old. It’s all fun and games.”

Despite his age, Palmer already is part owner of a boat transportation and logistics company, but with a mechanical engineering concentration, has other plans as well.

“I’d like to start another company in the next five years or so doing some sort of performance engineering with automobiles,” he said.

Palmer said he relished his time at ECU.

“It’s been a good experience here,” he said. “Being home-schooled, I didn’t have a lot of experiences growing up with a lot of other people, like going to games and stuff like that. There was a lot of experience, people relations, that I had never had. I’ve met a lot of good friends here.”

Palmer said he came to ECU because it was close to home and the tuition was less expensive than other out-of-state universities where he had been accepted. Plus, the engineering program offered him something others did not.

Jarod Palmer welds pieces for a wave tank as part of a senior capstone project.

“One of the things I really liked about ECU’s engineering program is that it’s soft-skills oriented,” he said. “There’s a lot of public speaking and teamwork that you don’t get at a lot of other programs. Looking at a lot of studies, that’s what a lot of people are looking for when they hire. Even in engineers, close to 60 to 70% of employers are looking for more soft skills and the ability to work with people, oral communication skills versus just being able to crunch numbers. ECU has that.”

Palmer said engineering was a natural fit for him.

“My dad was a civil engineer and one of my uncles is an engineer, so I was always around it,” he said. “My brother and I, we always liked taking stuff apart. We grew up riding four-wheelers and building engines, doing all the mechanical work like that, so we were always around it. We just wanted to get a degree that would help us do what we like to do.”

He said his favorite spot on campus became the high bay in the Science and Technology Building.

“Growing up at home, I was always in the garage, working on stuff, using tools, making stuff, so having all the tools in the high bay and being able to come in there and work on stuff, it took me back to home,” Palmer said.

He said engineering isn’t easy but said the challenges are worth it.

“Engineering’s tough, but you just have to stick with it,” he said. “A lot of people get disheartened real quickly, and it is tough to handle the load. Some classes may weigh you down and make you think that you want to give up, but you just have to keep pushing through and look at your end goal. That’s how I did it.”

When summarizing his time at ECU, Palmer had one thought.

“It was short. That’s the biggest thing,” he said. “It feels like just yesterday that I was walking in here for the first time. It goes by a lot faster than you think.”