An essay by Dr. Jennifer Sasser, gerontology program director, was published in the International Journal of Reminiscence and Lifelong Learning in January 2015.
For two years, Adam Webber got no sympathy from his parents about the demands of college and the mounds of reading and writing required of him. That's because Mom and Dad were in college, too – and sometimes even in the same class as their son.
Adam and his mother, Amy Webber, both completed their bachelor's degrees in English literature and writing at Marylhurst University in June 2013. And his father, Mark Webber, isn't far behind; he's scheduled to complete his communications bachelor's degree in December 2013.
It turns out the family that studies together, graduates together, too.
All in the family
For the Webbers of Vancouver, Wash., the rush to college started with Amy, a reading assistant at Tukes Primary Elementary School in Battle Ground, who decided to return to school in 2010 after her youngest child, Adele, earned her bachelor's degree.
"Her graduation sparked the drive in me to go back to school," Amy recalled. "I felt it was now my turn."
Out of college for 17 years, she earned more than 30 credits through Marylhurst's prior learning assessment program as she launched into the rest of the requirements for her English degree.
"I wanted to become a better writer, and I felt that in order to do that I needed to analyze the styles of the best writers in history," Amy said. "In my three years at Marylhurst, I've learned there are more possibilities out there for me professionally than I could have imagined."
Amy's initiative and enthusiasm for being back in school rubbed off on her family. Son Adam, looking for direction after years spent taking community college classes and working on cruise ships, decided he'd give college another try and enrolled in the Marylhurst English program as well. He discovered a passion for creative writing, and while working at a middle school library, also learned he is gifted in helping young students; he now aspires to be a high school English teacher.
Amy is thinking about teaching, too. But, as Adam stressed with a smile, "This is only the back-up plan for Mom and me. We both plan to write best-selling novels."
Amy's husband, Mark, resisted going to college "with all my might," even after being laid off from his mill job in 2008 and sending out hundreds of resumes with no results. Some jobs he was well qualified for, but he didn't have the degree employers were seeking. Now, he's perhaps the most enthusiastic student in the family. Mark's years of doing corporate-wide training, coupled with his newly expanded communications credentials, helped him realize he could succeed in project management consulting. But he's also interested in the possibility of continuing on to graduate school to earn an MBA in Sustainable Business at Marylhurst.
"I had been on a lot of college campuses [before I came to Marylhurst], and found them mostly impersonal and intimidating," Mark recalled. "Here, it is really peaceful. The people at Marylhurst actually do care about students and what they think; they walk the talk."
Whatever comes next, they've shared a great journey
While at Marylhurst, "the Webber clan," as they are known on campus, took occasional classes together, joking they saved a lot of money on books because they could share. They formed their "personal homework club." And Marylhurst even helped expand the family; Adam met his fiancée, Sarah Zisa, on campus, and they will marry in summer 2013.
All agree that the education they received at Marylhurst has prepared them well for whatever comes next.
"I spent time in Cambridge in 2012 for a summer school program, and I didn't feel at all intimidated being with so many other accomplished people," Amy said. "Marylhurst completely prepared me for that experience."
"I have been amazed at the level of expertise the professors bring to the classroom," Adam added. "My dramatic writing teacher has won an Emmy award, and other professors have prestigious distinctions. It was a pleasant surprise to find that at Marylhurst."
According to Mark, Marylhurst is ahead of the curve in many areas, such as online learning.
"Marylhurst may be small, but concepts we're already espousing here are just starting to take root at other universities," Mark said. "Marylhurst lives the idea that 'everyone is a teacher.' The teacher is a facilitator, allowing students to lead discussion and conversation to evolve. At the end of class, everyone has learned and discovered things."
"There's a sense that you've owned your education at Marylhurst," Adam explained. "And that kind of learning sticks with you."
And Marylhurst people will stick with them. The Webbers speak reverently of faculty such as Jeff Sweeney, chair of the Department of Communication Studies, who has been an important counselor and guide to Mark in his journey through college.
"And how many people would invite their college adviser to their wedding?" Adam asked, since he is doing exactly that. "And Mom's adviser, Meg Roland, went to her birthday party and they're going to Rome together with a 'study abroad' group at Marylhurst."
"This is a fantastic school," Amy said. "We all feel so at home here."
"This is a family-oriented place," Adam added, "the perfect place for a family to go to school."