The first and only time Tempe resident Eric Breault stepped foot on the Northern Arizona University campus in Flagstaff was the day he walked across the stage to receive his bachelor’s degree.
Eric, who took a combination of on-campus classes at Mesa Community College and online classes at NAU, completed his degree in comparative cultural studies in less than four years without ever leaving the Valley.
“It was strange and surreal that the only time I was actually at NAU was for my graduation,” said Eric. “It felt really good. But for me, I saw this degree as something preliminary leading to something bigger and better.”
For Eric, bigger and better means graduate school. He has just been accepted to Arizona State University’s Religious Studies PHD Program, a dream that just a few short years ago seemed to be an unreachable goal.
At age 30, Eric was working in a factory and his wife, Darcy, was cleaning houses. They had married young, entered the workforce and bought a house. After a period of time, they felt bored and decided to further their education.
“I decided at one point while I was working as a shipping clerk, on my thirtieth birthday in fact, that I just didn’t want to do this anymore,” Eric said. “I couldn’t see myself doing this for the next 35 years.” Darcy went back to college to study poetry. One of her classes was a world religions class. Eric accompanied her on a few field trips with the class.
“We went to a Buddhist temple, a Sikh temple, a Zoroastrian Community Center, an Islamic Community Center,” Eric said. “By doing this, I just fell in love with learning about different religions and cultures.”
After Darcy finished her bachelor’s degree, the couple started looking into graduate schools for Darcy and undergraduate programs in religious studies for Eric. At the top of the list was Arizona State University.
“We decided if we were going to do it, we’d just do the whole thing,” Eric said. “Let’s just ‘reinvent’ who Eric and Darcy are. So we left Illinois and moved to Tempe.”
Eric decided to check out community colleges while waiting to qualify for in-state tuition at ASU.
“I had read that the Maricopa system was one of the largest and best in the country, so we visited MCC,” Eric said. “Turned out that MCC had a religious studies and philosophy department and the number of classes they had to offer is comparable to what ASU had, almost the exact same classes. I was blown away by this and couldn’t wait to start taking classes there.”
Once enrolled, Eric said his interest in the field grew as he took classes from MCC professors Dave Yount, Keith Crudup and Thomas Shoemaker.
“The interactions I was having with these professors were just fabulous,” Eric said. “I was learning so much about the field. Dr. Yount had a very similar story to mine. He spent time out of school and wanted to go back to grad school after working in his dad’s factory. My life kind of paralleled his and I started to feel like this was where I wanted to be.”
Yount said Eric was one of the best students he has had in his twelve years at MCC. Eric served as Club President in the MCC Philosophy club and excelled in classes.
“Eric is a highly disciplined student, hard-working, and has a zesty thirst for learning,” MCC Professor Dave Yount said. “This made him an excellent candidate for the online component of the 3 plus 1 NAU degree.”
While at MCC, Eric enrolled in the Connect2NAU Program and began taking online classes. “I was very apprehensive at first about the online classes,” said Eric, who loves batting ideas back and forth in person. “I didn’t think they would be as good. But it turns out that they are wonderful. They’re very challenging. It encourages you to become a much better writer because all your discussion is done through written work which is graded.” Eric was impressed by the NAU professors as well.
“They are top notch professors at NAU,” Eric said. “They are very attentive and bend over backwards for their students.” When he had questions about credits and financial aid, he turned to NAU advisor Lacy Holt, who has an office at MCC.
“Lacey Holt at MCC is amazing,” Eric said. “She helped me with any little problem I had. It was like going to the NAU campus and talking to an advisor on campus. She was even more available because she’s dealing with only the students at MCC who are going to NAU. You get a much more attentive, individualized experience.”
At NAU, Eric was awarded “Outstanding Senior” in Comparative Cultural Studies. He was also admitted into Phi Kappa Phi Honors Society. Eric said he’s both nervous and excited about entering ASU’s graduate program this fall.
“When I got accepted into ASU’s graduate program, I had a feeling of ‘this is what I came here to do. I’m actually doing this,’ ” Eric said. “I couldn’t have had that without this whole experience. And I think the fact that you can get into grad school in such an academic-heavy field like this, speaks volumes about the program.”
There are more than 700 NAU students taking undergraduate classes throughout the Maricopa Community College District’s 10 sites. Information on the Connect2NAU is available at: http://extended.nau.edu/2NAU/mesacommunitycollege.aspx Main contact information for NAU Mesa is firstname.lastname@example.org or 602-776-4675.