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New UAFS alum, Joshua MerrittJoshua Merritt (right) and his dad Jason, a senior instructor in the College of Business and Industry, at the 2024 Spring Commencement

Joshua Merritt (right) and his dad Jason, a senior instructor in the College of Business and Industry, at the 2024 Spring Commencement

Alumni | Arts and Sciences | Business and Industry | NewsMay 31, 2024

Double Dose of Graduation

Written By: Ian Silvester

If you attended more than one commencement ceremony at the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith on May 11, it wasn’t a clerical error to hear one name called more than once. Recent graduate Joshua Merritt walked not in one but two ceremonies to commemorate his accomplishments at UAFS.

The 19-year-old grad—that’s not a typo—walked across the stage at the Stubblefield Center to shake the hand of Chancellor Terisa Riley and receive his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at UAFS through the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville’s College of Engineering during the College of Arts and Sciences ceremony. Later, in the College of Business and Industry program, he accepted his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering technology.

When most 12-year-olds prepare for what’s next in middle school, Merritt was busy prepping for the ACCUPLACER, a series of tests to evaluate his math, reading, and writing skill levels. He was homeschooled and found that he quickly grasped topics and succeeded in working ahead.

“It was definitely a lot of work,” he admitted. “I wasn’t taking shortcuts or giving grades. I was going through grades faster. It was two math lessons a day instead of one, that sort of thing. … My parents were very dedicated to helping me get through all the required courses so that I would be ready for college.”

Merritt’s hard work paid off. He passed the ACCUPLACER and was admitted to UAFS, where his dad, Jason, is a senior instructor in the College of Business and Industry.

At 13, Merritt attended his first course at UAFS as he embarked on completing his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and technology. The university limited him to only two classes during his first semester to ensure his success, but he was always a quick learner. Merritt proved he was up to the task.

“I’m very proud to say that there was a point where, age-wise, I was in junior high completing my high school credits, and I was also a full-time college student. I got to do all three at one time,” Merritt said with a chuckle.

By 15, he was about halfway through the program, but he joked that because he was still too young to work, he had time to spare for another degree path.

“I decided that instead of pushing through and getting done with my bachelor’s at 17 and having to wait a year before I can be employed in a goal-congruent role somewhere that can use my skills, I decided I would like to do another degree,” he explained.

After meeting with professors and mentors, Merritt was sold on the idea of pursuing mechanical engineering to get “both sides of the coin.”

While it may sound like Merritt's completion of both degrees was smooth sailing, he confessed it wasn’t without challenges inside and outside the classroom. 

“As I moved toward my first day of actual classes, I don’t know how to describe it—somewhere between super nervous and just terrified,” Merritt said. At the time, being 13, I was so much smaller than everybody else. It was definitely challenging for the first few weeks to talk with people a whole lot because I just didn’t have the depth to be able to communicate with my peers.”

As time passed, he began to connect with classmates and professors. He made detailed schedules to reduce stress, which broke down his time in class, studying, or working on assignments. Eventually, he created a study plan to help him memorize material, keep track of information, and reduce distractions. Despite taking these proactive steps, obstacles still found their way to Merritt.

“I got some really bad, bad news from several of my classes, and it was just going really, really awful that day,” Merritt said, recalling an afternoon during a 21-credit hour semester – a day he described as the lowest point during his college career. “I was talking with my dad in the engineering lab, and I was able to hold myself together through quite a lot of difficulties, but that was one of the only times that I actually cried because there was just so much weight from so many different directions.”

Having accomplished so much so early in life, Merritt was determined not to let this define the outcome for the remainder of his time at UAFS.

“I took the approach of saying, ‘Whatever I’m facing right now isn’t too big, and it’s just one more step.’ … I wasn’t afraid to make crappy work the first time. I would do things awfully the first time, and that would give me momentum. I would have something done, even though it was terrible, and I would come back and work through it again and make it better. Doing that, I could keep momentum going,” he explained.

As Merritt recounted his worst day at UAFS and how he used it as motivation, he detailed what became a silver lining to his challenges: meeting his future employer.

Mars Petcare attended a career fair put on by the Babb Center for Career Services. After meeting with Merritt and taking his resume, they called him for an interview the next week. Shortly after, he was hired.

“I’m working as a junior controls technician,” he said proudly. “They don’t typically have a junior control technician role, but they wanted me. They created that role for me so that I would go to a controls technician role after graduation, which was awesome because I was only expecting to be offered an internship role.”

Merritt humbly dismissed the notion of being an academic prodigy. He credits his accomplishments to his professors, parents, and peers. As he thought about the years he spent at UAFS, graduation stood alone as his favorite memory, and not because he got to shake Dr. Riley’s hand twice.

“It was an honor to clap for every single person in both of those ceremonies,” he said with a smile. “It was awesome every time.”

  • Tags:
  • College of Arts and Sciences
  • College of Business and Industry
  • Alumni
  • Electrical Engineering Technology
  • Mechanical Engineering

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