From Community College to Nuclear Engineering

Caleb JerniganWhen you consider a university you may look at price, reputation or national ranking. Did you ever consider whether the university had a nuclear reactor? Caleb Jernigan did. Now, the Volunteer State Community College alum, and former President’s Ambassador at the college, is finishing his last semester in Nuclear Engineering at Penn State. 

“Penn State puts out more than half of all of the nation’s nuclear engineers,” said Jernigan. “I’m focusing on the design of reactors; the fuel rods and the controls. I really like it here. The people in the department have been great.”

Jernigan says that the move from community college to university was challenging, but perhaps not for the reasons you think.

“My first semester was tough. Coming from a community college with 20 or 30 people in a class, and going to a university class with 120 people, is hard. No one knows your name. There’s a lot more attention and care given to students at Vol State. You (the student) can be second to research with professors at a university.”

And that’s not a criticism of Penn State. It’s a reality that students at many large universities face. Penn State Nuclear Engineering is considered to be one of the top programs of its kind in the nation. That level of academic standing comes with high expectations for student performance. We asked Jernigan what he would say to Vol State students considering transfer to a highly competitive university program.

“They need to work. Never settle. Once you reach a level, reach higher. Keep doing that and there is nothing that can stop you. I think that Vol State more than sufficiently prepared me in mathematics, physics and chemistry for Penn State.”

Jernigan says he will keep reaching for more, even after receiving his Bachelor of Science degree in Nuclear Engineering this May.

“I just applied to grad school at Penn State and MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). If that works out, I’ll be pushing another four years for a master’s degree and then a Ph.D.”

Science is central to Jernigan’s new family. The Cross Plains, Tennessee native was recently married to Binayah Shaparenko, a Biochemistry grad from Penn State.

For more information about Math and Science programs at Vol State please visit: