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Retired Carolina Ballet Dancer Pursues MAC Degree

What do ballet and accounting have in common? A lot, apparently – or at least Jenkins MAC student Jenny Palmer thinks so. After retiring as a ballerina from the Carolina Ballet in spring 2021, she finished her bachelor’s degree in accounting at NC State’s Poole College of Management in May 2022 and then jumped into the Jenkins MAC program.

Looking back on her journey – from growing up in Raleigh and doing her ballet training on Hillsborough Street, to dancing with the Carolina Ballet, to starting at NC State as an undergraduate and her experience now in the Jenkins MAC program – Palmer says she has a lot to be grateful for. In particular, she feels thankful for the abundance of support she received along the way, guidance from faculty in Poole College and the ways being a ballerina prepared her for a career in accounting. 

“Dancing set me up really well for the MAC program and for my future career. I learned to manage my time well, be disciplined and remain focused. But what’s interesting is that accounting is something I kind of fell into,” she says. 

[Accounting] just made sense to me – and I think it’s because I’m very detail-oriented, which I got from dancing.

Being a dancer had always been her childhood dream, so Palmer joined the Carolina Ballet right after high school. Her mom encouraged her not to forget about school, however – so she decided to enroll part-time at Wake Tech Community College and transfer later to a four-year college. She wasn’t sure what she wanted to major in, but when she started a class in accounting, something clicked.

“It just made sense to me – and I think it’s because I’m very detail-oriented, which I got from dancing. So, after getting my associate’s degree, I started at NC State as a part-time online student in Poole College while dancing with Carolina Ballet,” she says. 

In the middle of that, the pandemic hit – and her life, like many, began to shift. 

“Because I was already an online undergraduate student, nothing really changed with school – so that wasn’t a huge transition for me. But dancing in my living room? That was different,” Palmer laughs. “Right before everything shut down, we had begun preparing for our next show. So when Covid came along, they told us, ‘Okay, we’re all going to go home for two weeks, but watch the video and learn your choreography. We’ll be back and we will perform this show.’ Obviously, that didn’t happen.” 

Finally, in September 2020, they came back and started rehearsing in-person again – but things were different this time around. Besides the numerous Covid precautions in place, including double masking and being divided into pods, things were different on a personal level, too.

“During that quarantine time when I was dancing in my living room, I began having a lot of mood swings and hurting myself in rehearsal. I was also just physically fatigued. By the time I got back to the studio, I was really struggling. And, because we didn’t know what was going on, people were actually making fun of me a little bit. We’d finish a run of something and I’d be over in the corner pulling my mask down and chugging water and they were like, ‘Your stamina really took a turn during quarantine, huh?’ and I was like, ‘Well yeah, I couldn’t get in as much cardio in my house.’ But there was actually something a lot more serious going on – I was really sick,” she says.

The day after she finished filming the Nutcracker for a broadcast with WRAL-TV, Palmer went to the doctor to figure out what was going on. One misdiagnosis and a new primary care doctor later, she learned she had Type 1 diabetes.

“With dancing becoming more difficult, I decided it was the right time to retire, move on and focus on my studies,” she says.

She finished out the spring with Carolina Ballet, dancing on stage in front of many empty auditoriums for livestream shows. “That was fun – but it wasn’t the same. Thankfully, when a couple other dancers and I were taking our final bows, we got to have a small group of family and friends spread out in the audience. I was really grateful to do that final performance in front of my people,” she says. 

With dancing becoming more difficult, I decided it was the right time to retire, move on and focus on my studies.

In the months that followed, as she finished out her bachelor’s degree at NC State, Palmer became more convinced that accounting was the right path – so she decided to apply to the Jenkins MAC program.

“I had Robin Thomas for a couple classes in undergrad and I really have to thank her for being such a great teacher. She was the one who made me realize, ‘Okay, I picked the right major.’ She also encouraged me to join Beta Alpha Psi, the accounting and finance fraternity at NC State,” Palmer explains.

“The advisors in Beta Alpha Psi talked a lot about the MAC program and always encouraged us to see the benefit of that extra year of school and how it could launch us forward – saying that it makes it easier to get your CPA and that it’s a really good investment,” she continues.

Being in the on-campus MAC program, Palmer has gotten her first taste of an in-person postsecondary experience – and she’s loved it.

“I really like the camaraderie of the program. Everyone supports one another. And the faculty are great – they care a lot and they’re very interactive,” Palmer says. “I also appreciate being here in-person and the opportunity to really focus on my studies. What I’ve noticed is that the curriculum is very intentional. The classes all connect, so if I learn something in one class, it directly relates to something I’m learning in another class. So just being able to dive deeper into all these subjects at the same time has helped me learn better – and I feel like I’m being prepared for the CPA exam really well.”

Looking ahead, Palmer is eager to start a full-time position as an audit associate at Grant Thornton – an offer she received after interning with the firm last summer. “I’m really excited about this opportunity. The people in the Raleigh office are all so nice and the culture was really great, so I think it’s going to be a nice transition,” she says.

She’s also toying with the idea of going into academia.

“It’s a more recent development, but as my faculty mentor Dr. Lewellen and other faculty members have shared about their experiences getting a Ph.D. and staying in academia, I’ve begun to take an interest in it. Dr. Goldman also invited me to listen in on some research workshops, so I got to see the faculty interact with current Ph.D. candidates and professors from other universities, which was a really cool experience,” she says.

“I’m not sure yet if this is something I’ll do, but I’m keeping that door open – and a few faculty members have expressed that they want to be resources for me to learn more about Ph.D. programs, their experiences and what that path might be like for me if I choose to pursue it after a few years of work experience. So we’ll see,” she explains.

For now, she’s looking forward to finishing out the MAC program in the spring and starting her career as an accountant, and she knows that her past – both the good and the bad – will only make her a better one.

“I’m really thankful for my past as a dancer – and I’m also really excited to move forward as an accountant,” she says. “And while learning I had diabetes made that part of my life come to an end earlier, it’s kind of like that cheesy phrase, ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.’ Walking through all that, I became more confident about my ability to embrace challenges and do hard things.”