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Internet learning student among record-setting grad UND class

UND President Robert Kelley gave a shout-out during Saturday's graduation ceremony to Jacob White, one of 1,915 graduating students in the largest commencement in school history.

Jacob and Stephanie White
Jacob and Stephanie White celebrated Jacob's graduation from UND Saturday. Jacob graduated with a mechanical engineering degree he earned through an online study program while living in Indiana. Submitted photo

UND President Robert Kelley gave a shout-out during Saturday’s graduation ceremony to Jacob White, one of 1,915 graduating students in the largest commencement in school history.

White graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering.

Yet, he spent just two weeks on campus - for mandatory labs - over the past four years, earning his degree through the school’s online distance learning program.

“When Jacob started pursuing his dream seven years ago, UND was the only institution that offered an online engineering degree. He did it while working full time and raising a family,” Kelley said.

Kelley also presented honorary doctor of letters degrees to Mike Jacobs, recently retired publisher of the Herald, and to the Rev. William Sherman, retired pastor at St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Grand Forks and a noted historian of the state’s ethnic groups.


In a separate ceremony Saturday, 58 students received degrees from the UND School of Law.

White’s pursuit of a degree began in Arizona, where he grew up, as he and his wife, Stephanie, were raising a young family.

He had some training in computer-aided design through his father, who also was in that field.

 “I didn’t have enough education to go fully into engineering,” he said, “so after losing a job a month before we delivered our second child, I said I have to step up, get an education, get a degree, get something that pays well so I can be a valued member of the team.”

White enrolled in a community college in Tucson, balancing a full-time school load with a full-time job. Toward the end of his third year there, he started looking for online engineering courses.

Eyes on prize

He enrolled at UND in the spring of 2010.

“I couldn’t find anything that was fully accredited until I found UND,” he said. “I was still kind of skeptical in the beginning. Are these guys fully legit, fully accredited with an online degree program?


“I dug deeper into it and it seemed like it was really great. There is no difference whether you’re on campus or online. You get the exact same degree. And I get to graduate with the same people who spent their college years here studying, and I get just the exact same credentials that an on-campus student would get.”

He started his UND online courses about the same time as he and his family moved from Arizona to Indiana, with no job lined up, and no place to stay.

“We just didn’t want to raise our children in Arizona,” he said. They have three daughters, the oldest of which is eight.

They found a home to rent and eventually bought a house.

Stephanie worked out of their home as a medical transcriptionist for an Arizona doctor. She also started substitute teaching.

Even before completing his degree, White has been working a mechanical engineer, with a large Indianapolis engineering firm, designing safety devices such as airbags and seatbelts and safety systems for the military.

During his two weeklong labs in Grand Forks - in 2011 and 2012 - White met a few of his fellow online students. But he wasn’t aware of any others who had planned to return for graduation.

“It’s been a thing I’ve been envisioning since I first started this whole thing,” he said. “It kind of helped me to just imagine the end of the journey, of my family sitting and supporting me as I walked across the stage. I just kept that image in my mind whenever I’d get discouraged. That’s the moment I’ll make it to, if I just persevere through this. That’s something I just have to do.”

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