EDGECOMBE COUNTY, N.C. — Growing up in the early 2010s, Gerard Gaskin was like most kids his age. He played video games.

“My friends and I all worked in the same video game world, building houses and games,” says the Tarboro native. “I liked playing games and building things in my free time.”

When it came time to plan his future, he set his sights on engineering school at NC State University. But his grades at Tarboro High School weren’t enough to gain entrance into the competitive program.

“My high school advisor told me to go to a community college and get my grades up,” he says. Determined, Gaskin turned to Edgecombe Community College.

Johanna Owens, an English and communications instructor at ECC, taught Gaskin in several classes, remembering him as a “bright, attentive student” who asked a lot of questions.

“He wanted to do well,” she says. “He was very motivated.”

Gaskin enrolled in the College Transfer program at ECC, and in 2022, he graduated with an associate degree in science. Instead of applying to NC State’s engineering program, he discovered a different path that focused more on hands-on engineering.

“He called State and found another avenue,” Owens says. “He didn’t sit back and let it happen. He was invested in making things happen.”

In the fall of 2022, Gaskin transferred to NC State as a junior and enrolled in the Technology, Engineering, and Design Education program.

“He’s on a different path that he originally envisioned, but he’s so excited to be where he is right now,” Owens says. “I’m thrilled that it’s working out for him. I want him to be successful. We built a connection while he was here.”

Gaskin, 21, is making the most of his time at NC State. He likes his professors, he joined a technology and engineering club and is its treasurer, and he’s competing in national competitions against other schools.

Last year, East Coast colleges competed at the Technology and Engineering Education Collegiate Association Eastern Regional Conference in Delaware. NC State took home five awards from the conference in different categories.

“There were a lot of paths you could compete in,” Gaskin explains. “Mine was problem-solving.”

Gaskin and his teammates were tasked with replicating the scene at the end of “Toy Story” in which Buzz Lightyear and Woody jumped a vehicle into a moving truck. The team could only use items supplied by the association organizers.

“Our team didn’t win,” he says, “but I learned a lot about teamwork and collaboration.”

Gaskin is currently seeking an internship with a company that designs floor plans. When he graduates in 2024, he says a job at an architecture firm might be in his future.

He is thriving at a large university thanks to lessons learned at ECC, he says. “I liked learning there. At Edgecombe Community College, you feel like you have a bond with your teachers. The classes are smaller, which for me was a better environment for learning. In large classes, you just don’t get that one-on-one time with professors.

“I learned so much at ECC, like how to be a leader, how to write papers, and how to study. I’m so glad I started there.”