OGDEN, Utah – Jessica Brooke made up secret clubs with her friends, went rollerblading through the neighborhood and jumped on the trampoline just like any other 6-year-old girl. But while others her age were just learning to add, Jessica had mastered math concepts two and three grades ahead of her classmates. Today, at 15, she’s a senior at Weber State University and plans to apply to medical school before most teens her age graduate from high school.
Despite meeting all measures defining a child prodigy, Jessica doesn’t consider herself one. “I’ve just been given really great opportunities, and I’ve always been very motivated,” she said. “My mom and dad have always had very high expectations of me, and I’ve embraced that same attitude.”
At 5 feet 9 inches, Jessica blends in on campus with her backpack full of textbooks, a full social calendar and a wide smile. “I’ve made the best friends here, and I love going to my study groups where everybody wants to learn,” she said. “When other students find out my age and learn that my mom still has to drive me around, they’re a little surprised. I’ve kind of become everyone’s little sister.”
Jessica considers herself a typical teenager who fights with her siblings, has to do chores and gets moody, but her journey has been anything but conventional.
Growing up in Gilbert, Ariz., Jessica wowed math tutors throughout elementary school, skipped the eighth grade and at age 12 enrolled at the local community college. “While my friends went to the mall to hang out, I was taking college courses and working as a part-time math tutor,” she said. “I would still go to the mall and hang out with friends but felt going three times per week was pointless. I never got into the social drama and gossip of junior high. I’m grateful I got to skip out on all of that.”
Two years later Jessica graduated with two associate’s degrees, maintaining a consistent 4.0 grade point average. That’s when the family decided to take a trip to Utah to explore the universities in her mother’s home state.
“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,” said Rachel Brooke, Jessica’s mom. “I wanted a smaller university with a student body that aligned with LDS church values, offered an institute program and had a high placement rate for pre-med students.”
They discovered all of that at WSU. Having extended family in Utah helped solidify the decision to move the entire family, so Jessica, the oldest of four children, could continue her accelerated education.
“Jessica is the youngest student to ever enroll at Weber State,” said WSU Provost Mike Vaughan. “Because of our early college program, including Northern Utah Academy of Math Engineering and Science (NUAMES), 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.”
WSU offered Jessica the Presidential Scholarship after meeting with her during a campus visit. Because of her age, she lives at home, doesn’t have a driver’s license and is not allowed to date or go to college parties. That’s just fine with her. “I hang out with a lot of friends from church that are my age and still in high school,” Jessica said with a smile. “I could still experience prom. That’s if I get asked.”
Jessica admits her family sacrificed a lot for her but said it has been a smooth transition, moving from the sunshine to the snow. “My siblings have been very supportive, and there’s no jealousy or competition among us,” Jessica said. “My mom has encouraged all of us to excel and exposed us to math and music at a very early age to help get us focused.”
Jessica has encountered her fair share of critics along the way. “I’ve been called a nerd and had friends tell me I’m missing out on my childhood,” she said. “Others have assumed my mom was the one pushing me to succeed, but what they don’t realize is that I am the one who wants to do this. I am loving it.”
Extreme focus and hard work are how Jessica explains her success. “It’s funny how nobody criticizes a teenager who is intense at sports,” she said. “Just because my intensity is on learning, some people think I’m weird. Defending myself can be very frustrating.”
Rachel Brooke admits the path is not for everybody. “If you have a kid who is more advanced and has the motivation and maturity level to do what Jessica has done, why not present them with the opportunities?”
Experiencing ups and downs just like any other teenager, Jessica admits to having doubts. “One summer I was taking a Calculus II class over an eight-week period,” Jessica said. “I’d be sitting inside studying, looking outside at people swimming and visiting in our backyard pool, and I thought about stopping. But it’s just not in my character to give up or not finish what I started.”
With no plans for slowing down, Jessica plans to major in both math and zoology and minor in music. She is now in her second semester at WSU and is enrolled in 17 credit hours, including courses in chemistry, physics and music.
When Jessica isn’t studying, going to class or hanging out with her friends, she unwinds by playing classical music on the piano, occasionally challenging her sister to duets. “I love to play the piano and cello,” Jessica said. “I love music and spending time with my family. I’m really happy with where I am in my life right now.”