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First-year Zaire Garner is ready for college

Zaire Garner receiving his high school diploma. He is dressed in a light blue cap and gown.

For Zaire Garner, entering NC State University as a first-year student was a big transition, but nothing he couldn’t handle.

Garner is used to hard work. Prior to this year, he was a senior at South Lenoir High School, plus he took college courses and graduated with his associate’s degree in science. He also worked as an apprentice machinist through a program led by Crown Equipment and Lenoir County Public Schools.

Garner was a mill operator, responsible for running the machines efficiently and effectively. “My job basically consisted of placing raw material into fixtures for the machine to mill, changing tool inserts and changing the fixtures after completing an order of parts,” he said.

Over the course of his time at Crown Equipment, Garner learned how to load and unload parts into different machines, how to operate those machines and how to work with a drill press.

“I believe applying for the apprenticeship was one of the best decisions I could’ve made,” he said. “Over the last year, I’ve been able to learn so much about machining, manufacturing and engineering, all while gaining real-world experience within the workforce. I am very thankful to have gotten the chance to work with such an amazing group of coworkers who treated me like I had been there just as long as them.”

Looking at colleges, Garner knew he wanted to stick with engineering. He applied to NC State, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, the Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Michigan and got into all four schools.

Winning the Goodnight Scholarship was an important factor in his decision to attend NC State. The scholarship program, which was founded in 2008, provides full-tuition scholarships and comprehensive student development programs. Through the scholarship, Garner has a full ride to major in mechanical engineering.

“It’s a program that has a lot to offer,” he said. “There’s a mentorship involved. There’s a lot of community service. I think it’ll be a really great way to kind of get my face out there and make a lot of great connections while I’m at NC State.”

But staying close to his family, who live in Deep Run, North Carolina, was most important.

“Initially, I wanted to get away,” Garner said. “But as time kind of went on, I realized that I wasn’t as ready as I thought I was to leave my family behind, so I think everything came together the way it was supposed to. It made sense after the scholarship that NC State was the best choice for me.”

Still, Raleigh is a whole new city for Garner, and he’s excited to explore.

I’m really looking forward to getting involved in a whole bunch of new things and meeting a whole bunch of new people. I think that’s what I’m looking forward to the most.

There’s a lot already on Garner’s plate, but he continues to be mindful of his own mental health as well as his studies.

“If I ever feel stressed out, I stop everything I’m doing and take time out for myself and do some of the things I enjoy,” he said.

“As far as the things I do to combat stress, it all depends on the day. However, I think one of the things I lean toward the most is being active. For me, it’s always been a way to ease my mind and it also doubles as a form of personal progress. Whether it be going to the gym for a workout, or getting outside to practice skating, or any other form of physical activity that gets me sweating, being active has always been one the most effective ways I relieve stress.

“If I ever feel hopeless though, I always go to my mom. She’s always been there to give me great advice, and even when she feels like she has none to give, her reassurance has always been enough.”

Otherwise, he said, “I really have to buckle down and continue to work on prioritizing what’s most important. I think I do a great job of doing that now, but I think being on my own and having to do that makes it a lot harder. I’m just working on keeping all my ducks in a row, being on top of things as much as I can.”