Editor’s note: Reprinted from the November issue of GCU Magazine. To read the digital version of the magazine, click here.
By Ryan Kryska
Everything is bigger in Texas, even the Grand Canyon University family lines.
The Lone Star State is home to a family with six members who have been online students at GCU since 2011.
The family’s degrees have allowed them to move all over the world, with one now living in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates, and another having moved to Arizona following graduation.
There’s even a 78-year-old in the bunch. It all started with Kelly Taylor, who graduated in 2013 with her master’s degree in Psychology. Taylor then moved to Arizona, where she again enrolled online to pursue a Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership.
Second to enroll was Taylor’s cousin and best friend, Carmen Yarbrough, who graduated with a master’s in Education and currently lives in Abu Dhabi.
“This is the first time we’ve been separated in probably 20 years,” said Taylor, who visited Yarbrough in March. “We raised our kids together. It’s extremely hard.” Yarbrough has been abroad for more than three years. She teaches English, math and social studies to students who mostly speak Arabic at home.
Taylor said Yarbrough developed her own curriculum for her students there. She works in conjunction with an Arabic-speaking teacher to make sure the children understand the content.
“Her kids are coming right out of the home, so they are 4 and 5 years old,” Taylor said. “They tag team because the kids don’t speak any English, so the Arabic teacher is there to fill in the gap. It is really interesting.”
And then there’s Tammy Jones, who enrolled in the master’s program for Clinical Mental Health Counseling in November 2015. She is holding down the fort in Texas.
“Because both my cousins had success, I called both of them and just talked to them about the program and how they felt about their master’s and getting it there (at GCU),” Jones said, “and they both really liked the program there.”
Jones has been a raving fan of GCU — so much so that she brought her then-75-year-old mother on board in 2015, and her daughter, Ariel Walter, is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. Jones’ niece, Alexus Jones, is seeking a bachelor’s degree in Education.
“I think the support system with GCU makes working on a degree much easier,” Tammy Jones said. “There were a whole lot of exams when I started. I was like, ‘Why did I do this?’ But having that support system and someone to talk to has really made it easier for me.
“I’m always telling people about GCU, especially when someone is looking for something that will fit into their life with their schedule.”
Jones has developed a great relationship with her counselor, Andy Morgosh, whom she was able to meet in person when she flew in to see the campus last year. She described it as “beautiful” and said the highlights of her tour were GCU Arena, GCU Ballpark and the Student Union.
Morgosh took her up to the fourth floor of the Student Union, overlooking campus, and said one of the fun parts of his job is getting to know the online students well. Jones even calls him every couple of weeks to see how things are going.
“I think she has developed a comfort with Grand Canyon University,” he said.
Last but not least of the Texas six is 78-year-old Savannah Jones — the inspiration of the family. She is aiming for her master’s degree in Organizational Leadership.
“When I tell them I’m going to college at my age, I tell them you can do it,” she said. “People say I’m too old to go to school, but I had to go back for my mother. She was 62 when she got her high school degree. That encouraged me to think that you’re never too old.”
Savannah recently moved from Texas to Mississippi, so she has taken a break from her studies but intends to resume soon.
“I’m not going to let anything defeat me. Health problems, finances, those are your obstacles but those are more of challenges,” she said. “Life is a challenge. If you recognize we all have challenges in life, some of them seem like they are harder than others, but what you accomplish when you look back over the years and see what you did, it’s so rewarding.”
She said she’s often traveling with her husband’s ministry, so online classes have allowed her to never feel as if she is missing out.
“Going to Grand Canyon has been beneficial because of the contact that you have,” she said. “What was really, really special to me was one of the teachers called me and asked me personally, ‘Savannah, do you understand what you’re doing?’ And I said no. He said, ‘Call me when you need me.’
“That’s special. The professors that GCU has, the instructors that they have, they’re there for you.”