"Hope for the best and prepare for the worst."
Jared White chuckles, realizing what he's said. The 36-year-old Army veteran has been accepted into the Transfer Scholars Network, which connects high-achieving community college students with top universities, including Ivy League schools.
Although the San Jacinto College student hopes to pursue mechanical engineering at Rice ("the best"), he may end up at another local university. OK, not the worst, he admits.
White is no stranger to changing course after best-laid plans.
While some high school peers debated which college they would attend, White mulled over which military branch he would pursue. Instead, he became the third-generation electrician in the family.
In 2014, a construction layoff finally led him to join the Army. Then came another change of plans: After completing an Afghanistan tour, White got medically separated from the Army in 2020 because of a service-related shoulder injury.
In Texas now — no longer able to pursue overhead electrical work — White turned to San Jac for a new career course in summer 2021. Using veteran benefits, he started a general studies associate degree. Goal: Earn mechanical and aerospace engineering degrees and work for NASA.
Taking the plunge
While he has stayed on course at San Jac, White has overcome several challenges along the way. First, almost 20 years had passed since he last cracked a textbook, so he had to relearn how to study. He also took a five-week college algebra class as one of his first classes.
"I was doing math from sunup to sundown," White said.
Even his dreams gave him no rest, conjuring up quadratic equations, exponents, and polynomials.
Although his wife has supported him 100% in his educational goals, their two kids groan as Dad does homework from the moment he gets home until long past their bedtime.
"I try to be a good role model and show them with good grades you can get a good job," White said. "This is for something better."
Though White has changed course throughout life, what hasn't changed is his passion for helping and giving back.
While navigating his benefits early on, White camped out in the Central Campus veteran center so much the veteran coordinator asked whether he wanted a work-study position. Today, between classes, White covers the main desk, answering other veterans' questions and swapping military stories.
"We have this branch rivalry where we crack fun of each other's branch," he said.
Besides judging FIRST robotics competitions at the Central Campus, White landed a Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation Bridge to Baccalaureate internship in summer 2022. Under math professor Sharon Sledge's leadership, he helped move all robotics equipment, including 3D printers, to the artificial intelligence lab in the new Anderson-Ball Classroom Building. He also built cabinets in a new supply closet and arranged everything Tetris-style.
"Jared's maturity and work ethic made an almost impossible task possible: moving a mountain of items while remaining open for business," Sledge said. "He is mechanically gifted with craftsman skills that are necessary when trying to fit that round peg in a square hole."
White also ran logistics for the Roboteers Start Here kids' summer camp, supplying the materials other interns needed to teach circuits and 3D modeling.
Beyond San Jac, he and his family have volunteered for Habitat for Humanity and Pasadena's Thanksgiving food drive.
"I like giving back to the community," he said. "My parents did that with me."
From life experience, White knows success comes from planning and adapting.
His advice for others considering starting college as an older adult? Talk to family members about the changes at home. Seek study ideas and technology tips from younger students. Know that San Jac faculty and staff want to help you reach your goal.
"Just do it. It's never too late," he said.
Does "hoping for the best, preparing for the worst" apply? White thinks so: Expect challenges and face them.
"College can be scary or intimidating," he said, "but that builds character."