15-year-old Weber State senior plans medical school

Thursday , March 06, 2014 - 10:18 AM

Nancy Van Valkenburg

OGDEN — Jessica Brooke looks forward to being old enough for a driver’s license, to going on a first date and to attending medical school.

At the tender age of 15, she’ll have to wait until her August birthday for the first two.

Getting into medical school may take the Weber State University senior, oh, maybe another 20 months after that.

Jessica, now in her second semester at Weber State, is the youngest person to be accepted into the university’s bachelor’s degree program. Her projected graduation in spring 2015 will take her that long only because she is pursuing a double major, in zoology and math, plus a minor in music.

“I wish I could get my license earlier, but I can’t,” Jessica said. “It’s OK. The time will come. And I’m LDS, so I don’t believe in dating until I’m 16, especially being on campus. I don’t think I would date college guys.”

No offense to college guys, Jessica said. It’s just that some she has met in her chemistry and mathematics courses have daughters older than she.

Jessica grew up in Gilbert, Ariz., and stunned her elementary school math teachers and tutors with her skills. After seventh grade, she enrolled at a community college, and at 12 began studying for her associate degree.

“Junior high was painful for her,” said Rachel Brooke, Jessica’s mom. “Half the time in class was spent disciplining kids, which was something Jessica never needed. She told me, ‘We just waste so much time.’ ”

Because Jessica’s math skills were college level, that’s where she went, earning a 4.0 grade point average while earning her two-year degree. Jessica’s parents considered her university options and decided on Utah, then Weber State. Rachel Brooke grew up in Orem and Bountiful, and earned her degree at Utah State University in Logan.

Several schools offered scholarships, and among them, Weber State seemed just the right size.

“At her age, I didn’t want her going to a huge university, and most of the ones we spoke to didn’t know what to do with a 14-year-old,” Rachel Brooke said. “I wanted a smaller university with a student body that aligned with LDS Church values, offered an Institute (of Religion) program and had a high placement rate for premed students.”

WSU had everything the family was looking for.

“I like the size of Weber State, because I see people from my other classes who are on the same track and taking the same classes,” Jessica said.

“It’s nice to see familiar faces. And taking zoology will make me stand out more to medical schools. A lot of people just take biology and chemistry, but a lot of what you study for the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) is zoology. I won’t have to study zoology later before I can get the actual major. Zoology puts me ahead.”

Jessica, the oldest of four siblings, said she has wanted to work as a pediatrician or cardiologist since childhood, when her younger brother was born with a heart defect. A favorite Halloween costume was scrubs, she said.

Rachel Brooke said money is tight, because college students must be 16 to qualify for most forms of financial aid, and because the Brookes had to close the family business to support their daughter’s educational dream.

Rachel and husband Dan Brooke were contractors who built pools in Arizona. Dan Brooke now supports his family in Utah by working an oil field job in Texas.

Jessica said she is grateful for the support from all her family members and added that her parents never pushed her to follow the path she is on.

“I was motivated to do this for myself,” she said. “This is what I have chosen. I am really enjoying it, and there is nothing I would redo.”

Because Jessica is taller than average, at 5 feet 9 inches, she blends in easily with the Weber State population.

“I just assumed she was 18,” said one of Jessica’s chemistry classmates, Monica Bailey, 26. “She seems a little shy, but other than that, I never would have noticed she is younger.”

Chemistry professor Tim Herzog said he learned only recently that Jessica was so young.

“She’s a very capable student,” he said. “She asks good questions, and she is very energetic. She could easily pass for an adult because of her maturity and manners.

“We often have students in the course who are in their 50s and 60s. One of the cool things about Weber State is that we get a diverse group of learners who want to work on a degree or start a second career or just better their lives.”

Provost Mike Vaughan said many high school students attend Weber State classes.

“Because of our early college program, including Northern Utah Academy of Math, Engineering and Science, we’ve had young teenage students on our campus routinely and had already addressed the issues that surrounded them, such as computer access and restrictive materials,” he said.

Rachel Brooke said her daughter is mature for her age.

“She’s really kind and trustworthy. She’s a good example for everyone around her. She has always looked out for other people around her, and taken children under her wing if they were having problems.”

Jessica said she doesn’t feel like she has missed her childhood. Going to the mall once a week with friends suits her just fine, and she doesn’t need to go out every night. She doesn’t miss the “girl drama” that is common in high schools, she said. And when she does date, she hopes to go out with someone her own age.

“When I’m 17, I’m going to be going to med school, so I don’t think boys will be a priority,” she said. “If I date someone at 16, I don’t think I am necessarily going to marry him.”

But she wouldn’t mind being someone’s 2013-14 school year high school date.

“I could still experience prom,” Jessica said. “That’s if I get asked.”

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