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ME grad is ready to make the world a greener place

Unlike so many college students, Caleb Jolley, mechanical engineering ‘23, always knew he wanted to go into engineering. He just wasn’t quite sure what that looked like.

Growing up with two engineer parents, both of whom graduated from NC State’s College of Engineering a generation before, he was encouraged as a kid to explore his interest in aerospace.

“They never forced me into it,” Jolley said with a laugh. “I just knew about it from them. And then from knowing about what engineering was, I knew that it was something that I was at least somewhat interested in. I enjoyed building things. The classic playing with Legos and just kind of thinking analytically about how to solve problems and then coming up with solutions.

“I originally came into NC State wanting to do aerospace engineering,” he continued. “But then in my freshman year, I realized that mechanical engineering was a lot more broad. At the end of these four years when I’m graduating, if I still wanted to do aerospace, I could. But if I had found something else along the way, I could still do that with a mechanical engineering degree.”

He started young, too. In high school, Jolley was a member of the Engineering and Design Academy, where students took electives related to engineering in addition to other classes. He did his first internship the summer between his junior and senior years of high school as part of that program.

“So I did an internship with a company called Firstmark Aerospace before even coming to college,” said Jolley. “It wasn’t really until my first internship that I knew that engineering was for me. I knew it was something I was interested in and wanted to explore. But in that role, I was like, ‘This is what I want to do.’

“It was nice to have a little bit of experience coming into college, to help me get other opportunities later down the line, so after my first year here, I accepted an internship position with a company called Plastic Ingenuity in Oxford, North Carolina.”

Caleb Jolley and classmates pose next to a scientific framework model. All are flashing the Wolfpack sign.

Jolley’s internship lasted the summer and through the fall. The following summer, he decided to do something different.

“I did undergraduate research with the nuclear engineering department,” he said. “They had a mechanical project just for a nuclear application. I and another student were tasked with developing a prototype to insert and retract a thermocouple, basically a temperature sensor, into and out of the nuclear reactor here on campus. And so that was super fun to be able to kind of work on that project all summer. 

“We wrote up a report about it, and that was actually in conjunction with Idaho National Labs to develop the prototype for them, to then kind of replicate our design and use it on the versatile test reactor over there,” he added. “That was really, really cool because that’s a big name in the nuclear field, which actually helped me a lot later on having that on my resume.”

Jolley credits his getting that internship with his connections at the COE. He found out about the opportunity through Lisa Marshall, the inaugural assistant extension professor & director of outreach, retention & engagement in NC State’s Department of Nuclear Engineering. She was the head of a project he did his freshman year.

“It was really cool to be able to kind of draw on that connection from that freshman project, to have her connect me with professors who were looking for students to help them with their research,” he said. “It was very nice to be able to go through the resources available to me at NC State, to be able to pursue nuclear, just to see if it was something I was interested in. And it turns out it was something that I really enjoyed doing.”

Caleb Jolley, wearing a red hardhat and face mask, gives the thumbs up from an overhead walkway in an industrial space.

In addition to doing a mechanical engineering major and a business minor, plus his internships, Jolley did many extracurricular activities, including working as a teaching assistant for introductory classes, writing for the college newspaper, helping out with the NC State Engineering Career Fair and participating in the Engineering Ambassador program.

“Probably my favorite thing that I’ve done since being here at NC State was being a part of the Engineering Ambassador program,” he said. “We’re a group of students that represent the College of Engineering through information sessions and tours to prospective students, as well as doing K-12 STEM outreach events, which I found really, really fun.”

Now, Jolley is set to start a job with GE Nuclear in their Edison Engineering Development Program.

“It’s kind of my dream job,” he said with a smile. “I really wanted to work with clean energy in some form or fashion, nuclear in particular. It was really, really cool to be able to see how all of my work experiences that I have been able to participate in here at NC State slowly lead on to the next thing until this point in time.”

This post was originally published in College of Engineering News.