By Heidi Toth
When Caleb Jasper walks across the stage at commencement on Saturday, he’ll be the first in his family to earn his degree from NAU, despite being the youngest.
Of course, the next three names called will be those of his two sisters and his mother, so it’s really more of a tie.
The family, who are from Long Island, New York, are all earning their bachelor of liberal arts degree through NAU’s Personalized Learning program. They didn’t start out intending to have a family graduation, leaving dad Jason taking all the pictures, but when they realized it was possible, the four Jasper students got to work.
Mother Jerri Jasper was the first Lumberjack in the family. She realized a year or so ago she was finally at a place with her family and her job that she could go back to school and finish her bachelor’s degree. She looked around for affordable online options and found NAU’s Personalized Learning program. For $3,000, she could get a six-month subscription, enabling her to take as many courses as she wanted in that time.
She decided to take all the courses and finish three years of a degree in one subscription. That meant not a few 18-hour days. (She was the first to finish too.)
“Until I began, I was unsure if it was humanly possible to finish everything in one subscription, but I knew if it was, I wanted to do it,” she said. “Once I found a groove and could see the possibility, we changed everything possible about our family schedules and my work schedule to make it possible.”
Shortly after Jerri started, her three children, who had started college through a dual enrollment program at Davis College in New York, were looking for a less expensive way to continue their degrees. They enrolled in the same program, also cranking out credits to finish in six months in addition to working part-time to pay for their subscriptions.
“In regard to what we were looking for, it was by far the best option we could find,” Caleb said. “The price was right, the timing was right, the program was right. All across the board, it matched what we needed at the time of transferring schools.”
Jerri said for about a month her husband, Jason, was responsible for all the cooking, home upkeep, laundry and everything else, including his full-time job as a pastor, to make sure they could all finish.
The children had always been home-schooled—Jason worked in Kosovo when Hannah, their oldest, started school, and there were no English-speaking schools, so Jerri taught her, continuing to do so when they returned to the United States—so this learning environment was familiar to the family. Hannah said she leaned on Caleb’s knowledge of math and science and Leanna’s knowledge of film to get through some of her classes. She also relied on her father’s knowledge of time management; he helped her create a schedule so she could get all the work done on time.
She also found help from her NAU mentor and instructors, particularly when she found herself close to the end of her subscription.
“I jokingly told my mother that we should send our mentor, Michael Smith, a fruit basket for how hard he worked with us to get us finished, but I genuinely appreciate the effort he put in for three people he hardly knows,” she said. “It says a lot about NAU staff that they have people like him.”
As for what’s next: Flagstaff is one stop of their yearlong North American RV tour. The family is taking a gap year together, living in a 31-foot trailer and exploring the United States, Mexico and Canada. Leanna, 20, said she’s looking forward to exploring museums, aquariums and all of the unique and beautiful sights each state has to offer.
Along the way, they’re all hoping to do a little soul-searching. Jason said each of them has considered graduate school, Jerri especially, but that may or may not be next in line.
“For me, I have a slight idea of what I would like to do after our journey, but I need to figure out how to get there,” Hannah, 21, said. “I’m hoping to open and run my own nonprofit organization that focuses on sending people out to help with orphanages in any capacity. I grew up in a loving home, and I want to help children who do not have this same opportunity in any way I can.”
“I was hoping you could tell me,” Caleb, 18, added when discussing his next goals. “That’s part of what we’re trying to figure out along this journey, because I don’t know what the next step looks like for me. But I don’t say that with fear. I am excited for what comes next, even though I have yet to find it.”
In the meantime, his next step includes “dipping our toes in as many musical experiences as possible, but I’ll have to convince the rest of the group.”