Each month, the Goodnight Scholars Program highlights a select number of current Goodnight Scholars who represent the program’s highly diverse and involved student cohort. This month, the spotlight focuses on geology major and ROCKstar of Gastonia, Stephen Carpenter ’17. And no, nothing will stop this rock pun train.
Goodnight Scholars Program: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Stephen Carpenter: I am a proud son of Gastonia and Ashbrook High School, both of which I left in 2013 to become a part of the awesome Goodnight Scholars Program. Although the Sun Drop and barbecue aren’t quite as good up here in the big city, I am overjoyed to contribute to the growth and improvement of NC State, Raleigh, and North Carolina as a Goodnight Scholar. I am currently a junior majoring in geology. It rocks. My friends are all too familiar with the puns associated with my studies, but they ignore them because they know I really am down to Earth. Geology, at its core, is the study of the Earth and its processes at the smallest and largest levels. Our world is undergoing many changes and is encountering many problems, so I believe that an understanding of the Earth and its progressions is integral to solving issues like energy crises, world hunger, the depletion of nonrenewable resources, and the negative effect many human activities have on the planet.
I attribute most of my character traits, my moral system, and my general outlook on life to my family, but Ashbrook and its teachers certainly had an integral part in making me who I am. My wonderful mother, my two younger sisters and I were faced with the hardships of coping with the terminal illness and eventual passing of my father, and in turn learned the importance of being a part of something bigger than one’s self, a familial community like Ashbrook that supports and helps define you. As my time in high school came to an end, I was worried about leaving behind everything I knew. My apprehensions were soon put at ease as I came to NC State and realized the scope of the Goodnight Scholars Program I was blessedly thrust into. As a part of the program, I have been given uncountable opportunities to grow professionally and personally, to give back to our wonderful state, and to have spectacular relationships with some of the best individuals one could ever dream of meeting. In my free time, or maybe I should say, “time I made free by procrastinating or neglecting some academic task,” I enjoy jamming on my drums, studying the fantastic works of George Lucas, quoting Parks and Rec, listening to my favorite artists The Who and Bob Seger, magnets, and rooting for Wolfpack Athletics. I gave Segway tours of downtown Raleigh over the summer and really won over the chicks with that one, so if you need to know anything about the City of Oaks, I’m your man.
Talk about some of your greatest accomplishments thus far at NC State.
My biggest accomplishment while at State is probably my current research gig at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, the number one tourist attraction in the State that I would declare from my Segway steed. Almost a year ago, I was hired as an assistant to Dr. Chris Tacker, the museum’s geology curator. Chris, a brilliant guy, is tackling some interesting projects regarding the composition of North Carolina emeralds, the existence of diamonds in western North Carolina, and the formation of Apatite crystals, among other things. I am enjoying my time working alongside Chris, providing input and ideas to the projects while receiving hands-on lab experience not available to the average student. Of course, a primary goal of museums is to educate the public and foster children’s’ passions in science, so I am also given opportunities to speak to and answer the questions of visitors, young and old alike. I thoroughly enjoy this part of my job, and I always love when Chris and I identify new specimens and pass that information onto curious visitors or someone asking for our counsel.
I also value my leadership roles within the Goodnight Scholars Program above the majority of my other activities. I have been a Retreat Leader for two summers now and am earnestly looking forward to next year. I mentioned the importance of having a small community you feel comfortable in, and the retreat helps new scholars understand that they have one of those familial communities right here in the program. I treat it as an honor to help new scholars acclimate to college life and recognize the benefits of the Goodnight Scholars Program. Most new scholars get tired of my jokes by the end of the Summer Retreat, but somehow despite of that, everyone looks back on the retreat and its success in fondness. Being a part of that is just awesome.
What has your experience in the Goodnight Scholars Program been like thus far?
The Goodnight Scholars program has given me a family while I have been at State. In hindsight, I wish I had been more active while I was a freshman, but I feel that many scholars have similar thoughts as they progress through their college years. Being selected as a 2014 Retreat Leader jump-started my increased involvement and appreciation, showing me first-hand the multitude of fantastic students and go-getters the program is home to. I left the retreat with countless new friends and the plan to get as much out of and to give as much back to the program as possible. A year later and with another retreat under my belt, I consistently better myself at workshops and take trips as an ambassador to spread information about the program. I look forward to the parts of my week where I get to join my fellow Goodnights in enriching conversations or service projects. Some of my best-good-friends have come from the program, and I have no idea what I would do if they were not here to help keep my head on straight. Parker even lives in the apartment across the hall like some type of bizarro Kramer, which leads to many incidents of Seinfeldian debauchery.
What does being a Goodnight Scholar mean to you?
Being a Goodnight Scholar means humbly accepting the gifts I have been given and using them for the betterment of myself, my community, and those around me. Of course the financial and professional development aspects of the Goodnight Program are a part of that, but those exist only to bring forth and expand upon our internal gifts and passions. Goodnight Scholars do not just participate in a few service projects and workshops in college, thank the Goodnights for the money, and continue on to careers without being influenced; Goodnight Scholars are changed by those service projects, invested in by those financial gifts, and they have their professional and social skills honed and refined by those workshops and seminars. Goodnight Scholars are cultivated during their college years to understand the importance of improving upon communities and solving issues, large and small, that plague society. “Paying it Forward,” as we like to say. Because of the Goodnights and this program, I know I have a responsibility to use my talents to improve my community whenever possible.
How has the Goodnight Scholars Program prepared you for life after college?
On a base level, it has helped me grow-up and conduct myself in a manner that will be more effective in a professional environment. I have benefitted greatly from the advice given by professionals and academics during Goodnight events. On a deeper level, the program has taught me the importance of giving back and improving whenever one can. I haven’t just been given the tools to put together a great future, I have been given an instruction manual too (haha–don’t know where that analogy came from). It is hard to pinpoint exact manners in which the program has prepared me because it has done so countless times in a variety of ways. Through conversations and projects, Goodnight Scholars learn that problems of all kinds are not something to shy away from. We know to look at them as opportunities to pay it forward and improve our world. What could better prepare you for an uncertain future than that awesome mindset?
Speaking of life after college, what are your future career goals and aspirations?
I usually tell people that I intend on being retired with a few grandkids in about five years. Unfortunately that plan does not seem to be going well, so I guess I should push back shuffleboard and La-Z-Boys until I am at least 35. Joking aside, I am contemplating a few different career options, all relating to the Earth Sciences. As human society expands, the impact we have on and the amount of things we take from old Mother Earth are going to increase as well. I would love to help tackle the problems that this scenario raises, most likely by exploring and improving upon renewable energies while searching for the best ways to utilize our nonrenewable resources. The need is growing for individuals that can help companies reduce their environmental impact while sustaining their efficiency and production, and I could see my problem solving skills and knowledge of the Earth being useful for that as well. On the other hand, I cannot shake the memories of my old teachers and the impacts they had on me. I would be honored to have the same effect on the next generation, so I am certainly keeping my mind open to a career in teaching.
What advice would give to a new or prospective Goodnight Scholars about being involved at NC State and the Goodnight Scholars Program?
To a new Goodnight? Be as active as possible. This program is a gift not many people are given the opportunity to receive, so accept it gratefully by allowing it to cultivate your strengths. All of those cliche sayings about college passing you by quickly are true, so do not let the teachings and benefits of this program go to waste. I challenge you to learn as much about yourself and your potential as possible. To any college student? Find a niche, a solid group of friends, or something else that makes university life a little more homey. College is hard, and any healthy group that takes your mind off of that fact and helps you accomplish your goals is a wonderful thing. Laugh a lot. I am a strong believer that happiness is built internally. Do not go looking for it, build it yourself.
(Original story at Goodnight Scholars Program)