Two names might start sounding familiar to those cheering on newly minted TCU graduates at the commencement ceremonies May 7: Brent Hewitt and Sarah Jennings are both earning triple degrees — three bachelor’s degrees each.
Graduating with upper-division honors, Hewitt will receive a BS in engineering with a mechanical emphasis, a BS in economics and a BA in mathematics.
Graduating with both lower-division and upper-division honors, Jennings will receive a BS in dietetics, a BA in studio art and a BA in modern language studies — French.
“These students embody the hard work and student excellence at TCU,” said Provost Teresa Abi-Nader Dahlberg, provost and vice chancellor for Academic Affairs. “What a shining example of the cross-discipline efforts underway, the well-rounded Horned Frogs we have and the incredible graduates we will have in the class of 2022.”
Four years ago, Hewitt arrived on campus with 60 transfer credit hours.
“I was drawn to TCU by how small the classes are and how invested the professors are in their students,” he said.
An engineering major, Hewitt knew he had a four-year program ahead of him. Pursing other interests along the way led to two additional degrees.
“With the help of my Honors adviser, I picked out some courses that were of interest to me. From there, I found the space to complete the necessary courses for the major,” he said. “The biggest challenge was trying to take the classes that interested me the most without having to compromise too much to fit them into the rigid structure that the engineering degree plan requires.”
Among the highlights, Hewitt had a unique opportunity to switch from a math/engineering class that is very computation-heavy to an economics class much more rooted in theory and verbal reasoning.
“It really challenged me to be able to quickly change how I was approaching vastly different types of problems,” he said.
Among his research pursuits, Hewitt worked on a hyperspectral imaging project with Professor Sue Gong and is finishing up a research paper on hydrodynamics and surfboard fin performance. The senior design project also provided a fantastic leadership experience, he said.
“Learning to interact with an external customer and provide vision for a team was something new to me,” he said. “Though, nothing would have gotten done without the amazing team leads and team members who were a part of the project. They were awe-inspiring and I am so thankful to have been able to work with them for a year.”
When Hewitt’s 2020 summer internship was canceled due to the pandemic, he pivoted and landed a job as a woodworker in a communal workshop.
“I think everyone should get experience working with artisans or working with their hands,” he said. “It teaches you to accept imperfection and celebrate creativity.”
In addition to his robust academic schedule, Hewitt is a member of Beta Theta Pi and worked in the TCU intramurals department for two and a half years.
Following graduation, Hewitt will pursue a master’s in economics from the University of Leeds in Leeds, England. Long term, he would like to work in financial technologies, specifically trying to find ways to make international trade accessible to more people through the internet.
“The engineering department, in particular, does a great job of helping students push past failure,” he said. “There were times where I would come up short and both professors and fellow students were always there to help encourage or support me. This experience really taught me to be resilient, a skill that I think transcends the academic sphere.”
For Hewitt, earning three degrees in four years is more than a personal accomplishment.
“I was really fortunate to have all of those transfer credits and to have the support of my parents, my peers and my professors,” he said. “I definitely could not have done any of this on my own and am really thankful.”
Jennings chose TCU because it offered all of the fields she thought she might study as well as a club gymnastics team, a music program that accepted nonmajors and study-abroad programs.
After trying a variety of classes and exploring numerous fields, Jennings realized she wanted to help people heal their relationships with food and their bodies. She added a dietetics major during her second year at TCU.
“This decision set me behind schedule for the dietetics degree plan, but would allow me to achieve a triple degree — including some of my other areas of interest — if I planned very carefully while finishing the dietetics degree, took 18 credit hours most semesters — as well as summer courses — and continued with my plan to study abroad in France,” she said.
Completing three degrees in five and a half years, Jennings said the biggest challenge was maintaining momentum during an illness.
“Prior to that time, I had felt excited and motivated for my studies, but when I didn’t feel well, I lost this excitement and felt like I was just trying to survive school,” she said. “My adviser and mentor was an amazing support and helped me find my enthusiasm again during that time. To anyone who is struggling with losing motivation or enthusiasm, I recommend reaching out to a trusted support. Doing so helped me more than I ever thought it could.”
Jennings has especially loved developing and implementing her own research study with the help of her research advisers, Gina Jarman Hill, associate professor and chair of nutritional sciences, and Kelly Fisher, assistant professor of professional practice and director of combined BS/MS in dietetics.
“I’m studying the effects of registered dietitians on quality of life, eating and nutrition knowledge of adults with eating disorders and plan to publish my research during graduate school in 2023,” Jennings said.
A Coordinated Program in Dietetics internship also helped Jennings develop professional skills.
“I loved learning from my preceptors, exploring different topics and preparing nutrition education based off of what I learned,” she said.
Pursuing a triple degree has enabled Jennings to explore the world in assorted ways, which helps her understand and connect better with different people and fields as well as incorporate what she learned in one field of study into another.
“For example, I have used what I learned in my language and culture studies to practice cultural competence in dietetics, which improves client care,” she said. “I love linking what I have learned elsewhere to new content because it fascinates me and helps me to learn, and it also improves the depth and quality of my work.”
In addition to her academic work, Jennings sang in choir every semester until her senior year, when she couldn’t wedge it into her schedule.
“Cantiamo, the TCU women’s choir, was a special place to me, a place where I could come together with others and make something beautiful,” she said. “It was also a place where I could relax and work with others without the stress of assignments and exams.”
Jennings expects to complete her master’s in dietetics at TCU in May 2023 and become a registered dietitian that summer. She plans to work with children and adults struggling with eating disorders and disordered eating to help them find a peaceful and healthy relationship with food and their bodies.
“I am grateful to my friends and family, all my professors, the TCU health center and TCU police, and my mentors and research team for helping me up when I would fall down, supporting me, challenging me and helping to light the path to the future of which I dreamed,” she said.