This is the fourth in the “Pathway Series” of stories on Jeremiah Espersen, a retired Army sergeant pursuing a teaching degree at Trinity Baptist College in Jacksonville. Read Part 3 here, which outlined Espersen’s efforts to strike the proper balance between his heavy course load and family life. In Part 4, we look back on lessons learned during his first year at Trinity Baptist.
After a jam-packed 2017-18 school year, Jeremiah Espersen is enjoying some quality time with his family this summer.
“I’m taking the breather I wish I could’ve had,” said Espersen, who took on 18 credit hours during his fall semester at Trinity Baptist College in Jacksonville followed by a spring term with 17 credits. “We went on a little vacation to Disney World, I’ve spent time with my parents, and we’ve done some swimming lessons for the kids.
“I feel like I missed out on some family stuff for parts of the fall and spring, so I want to take this time to build some special memories with my wife and kids.”
Espersen, 40, is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in secondary education at Trinity Baptist. He’s ready to take on a similarly heavy course load going forward if it helps him achieve his goal of becoming a high school teacher sooner.
“I don’t think I’m going to get a class load for a semester that’s less than 16 (credit hours),” Espersen said. “If I had my way, I would space it out a little bit more. But as long as I can get out in four years and be able to teach, I’m good.”
Espersen said a big part of the reason he was able to focus on his studies was because he didn’t have to contend with any financial strain related to paying for tuition or housing for his family. His tuition was almost entirely covered by the G.I. Bill, while the rest was covered by the full Pell Grant he was awarded for the 2017-18 school year.
The Pell Grant helped cover housing costs for Espersen, his wife, and the couple’s three kids during the months he wasn’t enrolled in school.
“That was a huge lifesaver,” Espersen said of qualifying for the full Pell Grant. “It helped us big time with housing (costs).”
As of early July, Espersen was waiting to hear whether he would receive a Pell Grant award for the 2018-19 school year.
“I had two backup options if I didn’t get the Pell last year,” Espersen said. “I could get look into getting a loan, which I really didn’t want to do, or I could go and work a temporary part-time job.
“The part-time job thing would’ve been tough because if I wasn’t seeing much of my family before with all my classes, I definitely wouldn’t then.”
Despite the heavy course load, Espersen was satisfied with his academic performance during his first year at Trinity Baptist. It had been 21 years since the retired Army sergeant had been in a classroom as a student.
“Once you understand the particular intricacies of each professor — how they like to do quizzes, tests, or assignments — you learn how to prioritize tasks,” Espersen said. He became interested in teaching as a career during a stint at Fort Huachuca, where he served as an instructor. “It was interesting learning how much personality has to do with the way you teach: a lot of it is pretty cut and dry in the Army, but college professors have much greater leeway to change things up mid-stream.”
As for the rest of this summer, Espersen said he might explore some volunteer opportunities in downtown Jacksonville with this family.
“I’m thinking maybe something where we help the homeless, as long as it’s safe, of course,” he said. “I really want to bring my kids and help them understand that life is not all about you and there are people out there who might have the things that we have.”
This story is part of Florida College Access Network’s “Pathway Series,” a year-long project that seeks to highlight the diversity of experiences students face as they pursue postsecondary degrees. Each student will be profiled at the start of the school year, during the fall, in the spring, and during the summer following the conclusion of their first year.
Jeremiah Espersen is striving for better work-life balance during spring semester
Aspiring teacher Jeremiah Espersen learned a few lessons during fall semester at Trinity Baptist College
Jeremiah Espersen: The Army sergeant goes back to school
Introducing “The Pathway Series: Stories of Florida Students and Their Journey Through College”