Brandman grad finds his own definition of success
He’s been a high school dropout and a low-wage worker who had to battle unethical vocational training and bedbugs. But Jeremy Watkins is also a Brandman graduate and this fall he’ll be starting a graduate program in philosophy with a teaching assistant position and waived tuition at Oklahoma State University.
His advice for other students: “If I can do it, you can do it. Open your minds.”
For Watkins, that means letting go of the idea that college will guarantee a career and that’s the only reason to go to college. “Go in knowing that you’re going to be learning how to apply what you learn.”
Like many Brandman students, Watkins academic career took a few twists, turns and false starts. Classes he took in community college didn’t always hold his interest although he eventually took a philosophy course that did. But as fascinated as he was by thinking about thinking, he didn’t see it as a road to career or even a job.
“When my second daughter was born, I was still working in a low-wage job. I panicked and went through training to become an over-the-road truck driver,” said Watkins. That training, he said, was nothing short of unethical and to top it off the motel he had to stay in had bedbugs.
“I decided I had had enough and I had to stay in school. I went through my options and that’s how I ended up at Brandman,” he said.
Perhaps his biggest stroke of luck was to land in a criminal justice class taught by Frances Kroh, who said she saw immediately that Watkins stood out as a high achiever.
“She gave me unwavering support,” said Watkins, adding that the first course about high-risk youth was something he could relate to.
“My teenage years are kind of a blur. I got kicked into adulthood,” said Watkins.
Despite the degree in sociology, it was still philosophy that inspired Watkins the most. “I knew I wanted to pursue a career as an academic but I thought my chances were slim.” To improve his chances of getting into graduate school he took a few more philosophy classes at Arizona State. But it’s what he learned at Brandman that has helped him the most.
“Brandman definitely helped me break the barriers. You really do go a lot deeper than the surface,” he said.
In her letters of recommendations to graduate programs, Kroh wrote, “Mr. Watkins is very intelligent and excelled in his academic coursework by taking personal responsibility for his academic success. He developed positive peer relationships and demonstrated a sensitivity and compassionate understanding about people. I would rate Mr. Watkins in the top 1% in overall ranking in class compared to other students following the same degree program. In my opinion, Mr. Watkins will excel at any goal he wishes to pursue.”
Not everyone was so supportive. Although his wife and young children shared his dream, other family members had nothing but negativity to offer, said Watkins. “The irony is that none of them have accomplished what these academics, like Dr. Kroh, have in their lives or respective careers.”
“I’m not sure if Dr. Kroh knew that I was an individual struggling with poverty or not, because all I ever saw from her was an accomplished academic and professional who saw in me a bit of talent and a lot of drive. Dr. Kroh saw me, Jeremy, not the resources that I lacked.”
The instructors he had at Brandman, he said, form a cumulated model of who he wants to be as a career academic.
Watkins said he originally was afraid that Brandman, because it’s geared toward the nontraditional student, might not carry the weight of other institutions when applying to graduate programs and that it might be confused with for-profit schools that often target students from the same background as his. He found that wasn’t true.
Offers such as the one he got from Oklahoma State with a funded teaching assistantship and a full tuition waiver are highly competitive, he said. “Offers such as these are evidence of the legitimacy of a Brandman education. My story is evidence that the sky is the limit for any Brandman student.”
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