For one University of Delaware graduate, donning a cap and gown and attending commencement this Saturday will be old hat.
Twenty-one-year-old Juneessa Pressley already got a diploma two weeks ago from Delaware State University. The 2014 Caesar Rodney High School grad has been attending both UD and DSU for the past four years, simultaneously earning bachelor’s degrees from both.
At UD, she’s been studying music and piano performance, while at DSU she’s an integrated studies major with a focus in both music and science.
“Everyone says: ‘You worked really hard,'” Pressley said, “but I don’t really understand that. I just went to school.”
DSU spokesman Carlos Holmes said he’s not sure if anyone’s gotten degrees from UD and DSU at the same time before.
“First time I’ve heard of it,” he said, adding that Pressley sacrificed her summers to pull it off. “She started at DSU while still in high school.”
In fact, she took both French and history classes at DSU before her freshman year at UD. Pressley never planned on attending both colleges or getting two degrees, she said.
It was her mom, Diane Pressley, who pushed her to take science classes at DSU during summer break.
“My mom was dead set on my becoming a surgeon,” June said.
Diane said she thought her daughter should have a plan B. June originally planned on majoring in music composition and then switched to piano performance, inspired in part by UD piano instructor Marie-Christine Delbeau.
“She has a scholarship for the arts at UD, so I was like, go ahead, but in the summertime take your sciences at DSU and sit for your MCAT (or Medical College Admission Test),” Diane Pressley said.
“She said she wanted to be a Renaissance person. I guess that’s where she is.”
Eventually, June ended up taking so many classes at Delaware State that she had no choice but to matriculate and declare a major. The Integrated Studies program allows students to develop individualized programs of study through a broad-based education in the liberal arts and sciences.
The flexible nature of the program also allows them to achieve personalized educational goals, according to DSU. Students select two focus areas — chemistry and music in June’s case — and transfer up to 90 credits hours from another college.
June said getting two degrees at two different universities wasn’t actually as hard or as expensive as most people assume. For one, the history classes she took at DSU transferred to UD, while an organic chemical biology class at UD helped satisfy the requirements of her major at DSU.
June said it’s also cheaper to take classes over the summer or winter break at DSU then it is at UD, especially since she lives within driving distance of the Dover campus and doesn’t have to pay for housing.
At UD, June received a combination of scholarships and financial aid, she said, as part of the university’s Commitment to Delawareans, a promise to meet students’ full financial need and limit loans to less than a quarter of the cost of a degree for in-state students.
She only took one or two classes online and will be going to graduate school at DSU next year to study molecular and cellular neuroscience.
Though she is passionate about music, she doesn’t want to become a concert pianist.
“I don’t want to sell who I am, because that’s not what I’m made for,” she said.
She wants to be a scientist because she wants to be a problem-solver and explore and learn new things, not because it may be a better career path, she said.
Music is part of who she is, but learning to play the piano better had become a very internal process, reliant more on self-improvement than expanding her knowledge base.
“I haven’t betrayed my passion, because really my passion is finding myself,” she said.
Melissa Harrington, director of the Delaware Center for Neuroscience Research at DSU, was on the committee that reviewed June’s application for graduate school and said the young woman was a shoo-in.
“We were just so impressed with everything she has been able to accomplish,” Harrington said. “And she writes just so well, and really convinced us that neuroscience would unite her passions.”
Harrington said June expressed an interest in music therapy and exploring the relationship between music and the brain, which no one at DSU is currently studying.
How or why human brains evolved to make music is one of the great mysteries of neuroscience, Harrington said.
“Some neuroscientists say music is just an accident,” she said, noting that it depends on some of the same brain systems that language does.
Some say music and rhythm may have even preceded humans’ ability to speak, while others think language and music developed at roughly the same time.
“It’s one of those things that people don’t realize, that rhythm is a uniquely human skill,” Harrington said.
Harrington said June’s background in music could lend well to researching music’s place in the brain and evolution. At DSU, she will amass foundational knowledge of the brain’s fundamental properties.
“She’ll be prepared to make a unique contribution in those areas,” she said.
June said she’s also interested in cosmetics and while getting her master’s degree at DSU, wants to learn more about the science of good skin.
“The main thing I want to study is the pituitary gland,” she said. “I want to know everything.”
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Contact Jessica Bies at (302) 324-2881 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @jessicajbies.
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