Three Nontraditional Students and Sisters Complete Journey to Graduation
Omne trium perfectum is a trio of Latin words that convey a simple overarching philosophy: “everything that comes in threes is perfect.”
From a young age, people are wired to expect things in threes. Goldilocks and the three bears. Rock, paper, scissors. Third time's the charm. Genies always grant three wishes. Even the American Constitution promises a trio of good things: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
This principle also rings true in Raiderland, where three sisters, all nontraditional students, have been journeying together to earn their bachelor's degrees in University Studies through a hybrid model of regional sites and online courses. Though they all have established careers, families and separate obligations, they made a pact to travel this road together.
Jenny Baca-Johns and Julie Baca Parks are twins, and JoJo Baca Carroll is their younger sister. Residing in the Dallas area, they will walk the stage in Lubbock together in May.
Becoming a Texas Tech Family
Julie, the younger twin, said she leapt at the chance for the three of them to become Red Raiders, and strongly encouraged them, not that it took much arm-twisting.
“My niece Kayleigh, Jenny's daughter, was the forerunner,” Julie said. “She came out of high school and was a cheerleader at Texas Tech her first year. As a family, we all got season tickets and came to all the football games. We fell in love with the school spirit, traditions and community.”
In the fall of 2017, Kayleigh received her class ring at the ring ceremony. Julie said, as they sat listening to the legacy of the school, she and her sisters were filled with so much pride, they all knew they had to be a part of something so great.
JoJo remembers it a bit differently.
“I forced my sisters to start their applications for Texas Tech and told them we would all take our classes together,” she said. ‘We were going to be in it for the long run and we were going to do it together.”
That same weekend, all three applied to Texas Tech and a few weeks later received their acceptance letters. They started classes during the summer of 2018 with Texas Tech's distance-learning program at the Collin County Higher Education facility in McKinney.
“We started with a hybrid approach where we took two classes, one online and the other in McKinney,” Jenny explained. “This continued for a few years until our prerequisites were complete and the remaining classes were online.”
Jenny the Older Twin (by one minute)
Jenny, 47, lives in Dallas with her “wonderful and supporting husband.” Professionally, she is a consultant in the accounting (invoice to cash) space, working with clients daily to help them identify gaps and drive improvement through process development and technology.
“One of my goals is to move up within the organization,” she said. “Having my degree will remove an obstacle from being qualified for a higher position. Now, I will have experience and schooling.”
Due to an unexpected family situation, Jenny was only able to attend college for one year and then returned home to start her career.
“My first attempt of being a student years back was super fun and different because I was transitioning to adulthood,” she said. “While at school, I established what became lifelong friendships, which was one of the best things that ever happened to me.”
After a 20-year sabbatical, she returned to college along with her other family members.
“This adventure became a family event, to say the least,” Jenny said. “We are Red Raiders through and through!”
Julie the Younger Twin
Julie is a wife to “an amazing man, Justin” and the mother of two boys; Jaxon, 11, and Jace, 8. They also have two fun, loving Goldendoodles, Jixie and Jazy.
“While attending Texas Tech part-time, I have had a full-time job for the last 25 years in the pharmaceutical distribution industry in IT,” Julie said. “Coming back to school after 20+ years was very daunting and overwhelming at first. There was a lot of uncertainty about how equipped I was because so much has changed in education since I first attended college.”
Julie started her first round of college straight out of high school but pivoted into her professional career after only a year and a half.
“The first round of college ended faster than I expected, but I met the greatest lifelong friends during that period,” she said. “In some ways, it was easier going to school right out of high school because it was fresh. Twenty-seven years later, here I am at the greatest university finishing what I had started so long ago and doing it with my sisters. I would not have been able to do this without them. We are so looking forward to making this a family legacy. Wreck ‘em Tech!”
JoJo the Little Sister (by three years)
JoJo is married and has no children, unless, she said, you count her Siamese cat, Macchiato. She works for a tech company out of Silicon Valley, and her main responsibilities are in human resources, specifically benefits and employee recognition.
“Obtaining a second bachelor's degree will not necessarily set me apart from others in the applicant process for my next career move like it will my sisters,” she said. “For me though, I do think it brings a different and unique perspective to my work. This is what will help me in my future career goals, going through this experience as an adult and being able to relate it to what I do is special, and I am appreciative that Texas Tech is giving me that.”
JoJo said this time around has been completely different from her first time in college. For her first bachelor's degree, she attended a college where she commuted to school and then to work full-time. She didn't experience college in the way that most students get to if they live away from home.
“This time around, even though I am still not a traditional student, I wanted to ensure that my college experience was more complete,” JoJo said. “I chose Texas Tech because my niece was cheering for them. I wanted to have a college experience where school spirit and being a part of a larger college community was a driving force, something which was recognizable around the entire country. Everyone knows Texas Tech; everyone smiles when you say ‘Wreck ‘em.' There is a pride here that I was missing, and I really desired this for my second time around.”
All For One and One For All
The trio had no trouble getting involved in campus life and showing Red Raider pride.
“My favorite part of attending Texas Tech as a distance learner is that even though I am a non-traditional student, I still was given the opportunity to participate in student life as other students do that live in Lubbock and I get to walk the stage for graduation,” Julie explained. “What made it even more special is that my sisters and I made it a point to go to Lubbock every semester to participate in the school rituals. This made it feel like we were part of typical student life.”
JoJo echoed Julie about the trio making a conscious choice to participate in all things Texas Tech throughout the experience.
“The first year, we went to every home football game. We packed the entire extended family into two minivans and caravanned to the games,” she said. “We tailgated, we hung out at the McKenzie-Merket Alumni Center, we even took the bus to the stadium.
The sisters still make it a point to go to games every year. They have attended the Carol of Lights and homecoming - including the pep rally, bonfire and parade. They chose class rings together and know exactly what matching footwear they are going to wear to graduation. They have made the most of their time at Texas Tech to get the full college experience.”
Jenny agreed the goal was to make this college experience the best possible and participate in all school traditions, specifically mentioning eating in the dorm cafeteria, buying as much Texas Tech gear as possible, and being motivated by her kids' graduations.
“With Kayleigh graduating in 2018 and Kason in 2022, watching them graduate was amazing. And I will make it before I turn 50! I would say…mission accomplished!”
Degrees at a Distance
The three sisters, who all have 4.0 GPAs, agree that they could never have made a traditional degree plan work, and certainly not the “together” part. But they each had favorite parts of the program and the process.
JoJo said the whole experience of being in the hybrid classroom, talking to a professor while they taught others who were on campus, made them feel included, even if they were remote. She quickly admitted that online courses during her first round of college were quite boring but said Texas Tech has done an amazing job of altering the process to be more engaging and interactive.
“At Texas Tech the hybrid model and being able to walk into a regional campus provides sociability and comradery and gives you a sense of really being in college you wouldn't get with just online courses,” she said. “There is school pride when you walk into the regional campus. There are Texas Tech banners, and you get a student ID. There was even a course which showed you how to navigate the library and other facilities, just as if you were on campus and not remote.”
Julie said for her, the main benefit of attending online was flexibility.
“Having a full-time job, running a household with two small children and keeping up with their schedules would have been more difficult if I had to attend courses in a classroom setting,” Julie said. “I do not think it would have been sustainable for my lifestyle. Additionally, I would not have been able to attend a university like Texas Tech if it had not been for the online option.”
Jenny's favorite part of attending a distance-learning site was the small class sizes.
“We were quickly able to build relationships with the classmates and teachers,” she said.
Three Thumbs (and Guns) Up
The threesome highly recommends the hybrid regional site/online model to any student, especially nontraditional ones, considering going to or returning to school.
“It is never too late to go back and finish,” Jenny said. “Get involved in small groups to help you study and get through some of the classes. Go and experience Texas Tech as if you were there on campus. You will feel so much more connected with the school and proud of what you are doing.”
Jenny even plans to support Texas Tech after graduation by volunteering in the Texas Tech Alumni Association Dallas County Chapter to share her story and help others get excited about joining the hybrid program.
JoJo encourages others to be a part of something beyond what they even think they can accomplish.
“It's hard, it takes commitment but if done right, and it will be if you go through Texas Tech, you will come out better,” JoJo said. “You will have an education that will take you places and an overwhelming sense of pride for what it means to be a Red Raider.”
For any student considering online courses at Texas Tech, Julie said to make it a point to go to Lubbock throughout the journey and to connect with the local Texas Tech community for watch parties and events in the area.
“These traditions will connect you to the school, and the community, and make you feel proud to be a Red Raider!”
A Trio of Thank Yous
The sisters also had sincere words of gratitude for the three mentors and professors who helped them most along their journey. Janet Veal is the academic advisor for the DFW region. Ben Poole teaches history, and Catherine Nutter taught Human Resource Development. The sisters crafted their thank you together.
“Janet was our most trusted advisor who was always there to help guide and encourage us,” they said. “Dr. Nutter was our greatest mentor and challenged us to push through and never give up. Dr. Poole had the most intriguing and unique classes to inspire passion for the past. It is because of these people in our lives that we got through Texas Tech.”
The Last Word … from the Last Sister
Youngest sister JoJo was bursting with pride over her older sisters.
“I don't say this often, but I am extremely proud of my sisters,” she said. “They have been real troupers throughout this experience. Working full-time, caring for their families and going to school is no easy task. It's downright stressful and it forces your attention in so many directions and you feel guilty you're not devoting your whole being to just one aspect of your life. You truly have to be dedicated to do it. My sisters have done this beautifully.
“They have grown so much. They have accomplished things they would never have
thought they could attempt before this journey. We have bonded in so many new and exciting ways, pushed ourselves to the breaking point, and competed and supported each other for grades in that sister-friendly way, all with composure and grace. I am so proud of them, it's hard to express it fully in words.”