Thanks to hard work in both high school and at College of The Albemarle, Jaelah Adkins, 17, is already a sophomore at Elizabeth City State University. She is majoring in kinesiology with a concentration in exercise science.

Listening to Elizabeth City State University sophomore Jaelah Adkins talk about her goals, determination, and plan for success, it might be surprising to learn she’s only 17.

In January, the Elizabeth City native began taking classes at ECSU as a second semester freshman, declaring her major in kinesiology with a concentration in exercise science.

Adkins was a student in the first class of the Elizabeth City-Pasquotank County Early College at College of The Albemarle. Even then, she knew she would graduate from high school ahead of her peers and go on to study at a university.

“I started getting college credits ever since my first class there,” Adkins said. “I would look at the classes I was taking to make sure I was getting the credits I needed, and I would take classes in the summer.”

Adkins said because of her father’s high profile in Elizabeth City — he’s a business owner and member of Elizabeth City City Council — she was determined to graduate early and head off to college.

“I’m proud of that but I wanted to show people that I could have something going on as well,” she said. “I wanted to shine on my own.”

While Adkins had accumulated plenty of college credits at ECP Early College, she wanted to dual enroll at ECSU as a high school student. That’s when she transferred to Northeastern High School.

As a dual-enrollment student at NHS and all of her high school credits completed, Adkins was able to begin taking classes at the university. On top of that, because of her hard work in at ECP Early College and at COA, she accumulated enough freshmen credits to enter ECSU as a second-semester freshman even though she was only 16.

“I was very nervous,” Adkins recalled. “Everything moved so fast because I wasn’t expecting to be here so early.”

During her first semester at ECSU, Adkins took 16 credit hours. Her sister is also an ECSU student so with her help, Adkins was able to navigate the campus and become acclimated to university life.

“It wasn’t as bad as I thought,” she said of her workload and her first semester on campus.

And then the pandemic hit, and the university campus switched to virtual learning.

“Of course, it was disappointing because at that point I was getting adjusted to the campus,” Adkins said.

Although she prefers in-person classes, Adkins said she adjusted to virtual learning. She didn’t like it, but figured out how to make it work for her.

This semester, ECSU students returned to campus and so did Adkins. She could have easily continued living at home, but she decided she wanted to live on campus and be a part of the Viking community. She also decided to become a cheerleader for ECSU sports team. Although there are currently no sports activities due to COVID-19 restrictions, Adkins is a member of the cheerleading squad.

“I did that (move on campus) because I had this vision that after the next semester, I wanted to do school strictly online,” she said.

Adkins says her degree in kinesiology fits into her plan to be a physical therapist working with children. She said she has an opportunity to work at Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters in Norfolk, Virginia, while finishing her degree online.

Her grandmother works at CHKD in the registration office. When Adkins turns 18, she will be eligible to work there.

“That is a way I can start looking at the physical therapy department at the hospital,” she said. “Once I get a degree and make relationships there, I can work my way into that department.”

So how does someone so young have such drive, focus and determination?

“Stay focused,” she said. “Once you have the mindset to do something, go for it.”

It’s also important to have someone you can talk with about your plans.

“My mom was the one that helped me put that vision into action,” Adkins said. “My mom is the one that inspired me to follow my dream and do what I have to do to be successful.”

So far, Adkins is finding success sticking with that plan.