As students crossed the stage at Hofstra University’s graduation commencement last month, they marked the conclusion of their academic careers before taking the first steps into professional ones. At just 18, Jason Jackrel was the youngest student in the crowd to do so.
Jackrel graduated with a computer engineering degree from Hofstra and will soon move to the opposite coast to work in Silicon Valley, his first major foray into a job. It’s not Jackrel’s first time busting the curve, though: He accelerated through elementary and high school, before attending Hofstra at 15.
“When I was a kid, it was like I’d be handed a laptop and told, ‘OK, go have fun!’” Jackrel said. “Sometimes I’d find some old stuff in the closet and ask, ‘What’s this thing?’ And it would be an old computer that I installed Windows XP on — at 5, that’s the coolest thing ever. Now, that’s like every day.”
At home, Jackrel is a tinkerer. He recently renovated a 1957 television to working condition, complete with Roku streaming. While he enjoys watching some shows that are “appropriate” for the TV, such as “The Twilight Zone,” “I have Phineas and Ferb running on a TV from 1957 — that shouldn’t exist, but I made it exist.”
From scratch, Jackrel also designed a heart-shaped necklace affixed with LEDs that can flash in response to music playing around the wearer. He implemented Bluetooth capability in a Hyundai and decked out his electric scooter with lights as well.
“Ideas for me are very spontaneous,” Jackrel said. “It’s just, ‘This is what we’re gonna do today.’”
“Our garage has turned into a workshop,” said Jason’s father, Chad, who works for IBM.
“Our house has been taken over by electronic parts,” added his mother, Amy, with a laugh.
When Jason started kindergarten, “you could tell he was so bored with what they were doing,” Amy said. Unable to move him into the first grade, his parents opted to enroll him in the Long Island School for the Gifted.
“He came out after spending a day with the kids over there,” Amy said, “and he was like, ‘When can I start?’”
He attended the School for the Gifted until seventh grade, when he moved to Wellington C. Mepham High School, where he was permitted to take Advanced Placement Chemistry early. He ended up skipping grades eight, 10 and 11, and finished high school in just two years.
“We put him through every kids’ computer science class we could find,” Amy said. “We had literally run out of classes to give him, and he wanted to take something else and keep learning computers.”
At 12, Jason was also enrolled in Suffolk Community College, where he took non-matriculated computer science and calculus classes, which helped him build up college credits before he started at Hofstra.
Jackrel will soon start his career with a five-month program in Samsung’s Think Tank Team. It is a highly selective program where inventions range as far as participants’ imaginations.
Jackrel will work in a lab where “anything you want to come to fruition will come to fruition,” he said. The Think Tank is home to a great deal of innovative tech, including advanced virtual-reality headsets and a robot that cooks meals.
“I didn’t want to just be doing desk Excel work,” Jackrel said. “I want to do something; I want to make something. I want to work on a project I can see the end of and see something come out of it.”