That Maria Whitaker is able to take upper-division courses as a first-year university student shows that education has been a high priority in her life.
But the fact that she is doing this at Brigham Young University, one of the most valued and respected colleges in the country, not only reveals what kind of student she is but also what the highly touted Western Nevada College Jump Start program can do for a student interested in higher education.
Whitaker graduated from Churchill County High School in 2020, because she participated in WNC’s Jump Start program, she also earned an associate degree while receiving her high school diploma. Essentially, this put Whitaker two years ahead of other college-bound high school seniors and saved her two years of college tuition and other costs.
“Jump Start isn't just for the smart kids,” she said. “If you're willing to work hard, discipline yourself, and ask questions when you need help, Jump Start is a great experience.”
First off, what Whitaker learned in the Jump Start program as a high school junior was to assume accountability for her education and learning.
“My professors were always willing to work with me and allowed me to take my learning in a direction that was meaningful and personal to me,” Whitaker said. “For example, they often let students select their own topics for projects and provided support by connecting them to the right sources. I loved the academic challenges that Jump Start presented. I always felt like I was pushed the right amount and in the right directions.”
By personalizing her education and making it a main priority, Whitaker performed exceptionally well in her classes, earning a 4.0-grade point average. In earning this coveted level of academic excellence, Whitaker didn’t feel she was making more sacrifices than other students because of what education means to her.
“What you're successful at depends on what you prioritize, and for me, that was often my education,” she said. “I leaned on others who also wanted me to be successful, including professors and students who shared similar goals. One of my favorite parts of Jump Start was that the professors put themselves on the same level as their students and are so willing to work with them to help them succeed. Understanding what professors expect is key to being successful. I took advantage of the mutual respect between professors and students and tried to remember that I can't do everything on my own.”
By combining her junior and senior years of high school with her first two years of college, Whitaker is now able to be more flexible with her junior and senior years as a political science major at BYU.
“I'll admit that after Jump Start graduation, I initially felt pressure, mostly from myself, to stick to a ‘set in stone’ education plan and finish my undergrad in two years,” Whitaker said. “I quickly learned that it's okay to change your plans and decided to use the buffer that Jump Start gave me and spread my classes out over three years. Overall, I'm grateful that Jump Start gave me the tools I need to make decisions about my education and future that feel right for me.”
To learn more about WNC’s Jump Start program, go to wnc.edu/jump-start/, email [email protected] or phone 775-445-3250.