OGDEN — Jessica Brooke has wanted to work in the medical field for as long as she can remember.
“In preschool, they asked us to dress up as what we wanted to be when we grew up,” she said. “My classmates would come as princesses or superheroes, but I came in scrubs.”
But few would have anticipated that Jessica, at 15 years old, would become a math prodigy and the youngest student ever to enroll at Weber State University.
“I love the experience. I love the friendships I've made. I love the challenges before me. I love learning something new every day,” said Jessica, who plans to apply to medical school before most students her age graduate from high school.
Her passion for learning, coupled with a tenacious drive to succeed, led her to score outlandishly high on math tests in elementary school. By the time she reached junior high, Jessica had mastered math concepts she wouldn't be taught for two or three years.
At age 12, Jessica skipped the eighth grade and all of high school, enrolling in a local community college near her home in Gilbert, Ariz. She graduated with two associate degrees and a 4.0 grade-point average, and then began perusing universities across the nation.
When Weber State offered the then-14-year-old a full-ride scholarship, Jessica's family decided to move to Utah — her mother's home state — to be near the university.
"I could not do this without my family,” she said.
Jessica's mother, Rachel Brooke, said learning always has been a priority in their home.
“My husband and I have always had high expectations of our children," she said. "If you can get a child to think that practicing is normal, reading is normal and doing math for fun is even normal, there is no limit to their potential.”
Rachel Brooke attributed much of her daughter's drive to her music education.
“Jessica started playing piano at 5 and cello at 8,” she said. “Those early beginnings of music taught her motivation and gave her something all her own.”
But Jessica never needed much encouragement, her mother said.
“Even as a young elementary student, she was demanding of herself,” Rachel Brooke said. “I've given her opportunity and maybe directed her in some way, but she really has done the work. She has the drive, even a work ethic that is off the charts, and we've merely been here to support her in that.”
On Thursday, Jessica milled about campus like any typical college student. Standing 5 feet 9 inches, with a backpack full of textbooks and weekends consumed by social events, it's not obvious that she's as young as the children of some of her nontraditional classmates.
Jessica is in her second semester at Weber State, set to graduate in 2015. She is working toward a double major in zoology and math, with a minor in music. She plans to continue on to medical school at the University of Utah or another school in Texas or Arizona.
“Jessica is just a wonderful student,” said her chemistry professor, Todd Johnson. “She gets right in there, is active and performs as well as any other student.”
Johnson was taken aback when reporters asked him about the 15-year-old.
“I didn't know she was 15,” he replied, astonished. “I didn't notice because her maturity level is equal to that of other students.”
Johnson said he would be interested to know about Jessica's future aspirations.
“I could see her going on to graduate school or becoming a teacher one day,” he said. “Frankly, there's really nothing she can't do.”
Some have criticized Jessica and her parents, she said.
“When people find out I want to eventually go to medical school, they're skeptical that I don't have enough life experience,” she said. “But if the medical schools feel that way and I'm put off a few years, then I can go do something else. I'm not in a huge rush right now.”
Others have been concerned that Jessica is missing teenage rites of passage, but she isn't concerned.
“I don't think that I'm missing out on anything,” she said. “I'm still a teenager. I still do those same things. I still have friends my own age. I still act like a teenager.”
Jessica lives at home with her three younger siblings. Due to her age, she doesn't yet have a driver's license and isn't allowed to date.
“I wish I could drive, but the time will come. I'll get there,” says the girl who has gotten to many places quicker than most.