Jen Almond was playing a trivia game along with other students during the BYU Marriott School of Business’s new-student orientation when a question popped up that she knew she could answer correctly: “How old is the oldest student in this class?” The answers provided were 20, 32, and 34. Almond, age 34 at the time, realized she was the oldest person in her information systems cohort.
Although she jokingly refers to herself as the “old lady” of her class, Almond, who graduated with her BS in information systems in 2022, was known for bringing a depth of hard-earned experience to the program. She began her career as a hairstylist more than 10 years ago, completing cosmetology school in the early days of her marriage. However, when her son was born with special needs, Almond realized that she needed a job with suitable insurance options.
“Insurance and the hair industry don’t usually go well together,” Almond explains. “So I ended up working at Wells Fargo and doing hair on the side.” She began as a bank teller and progressed to the role of personal banker within a year. While at Wells Fargo, Almond had a second child, and her family moved from Salt Lake City to Saratoga Springs, Utah.
Almond’s next career decision, made to support her growing family and shorten her work commute, was to open a local daycare. She ran the business for five years, during which time she had another baby. “At that point I started thinking, ‘Okay, maybe I should go back to school. I don’t know that I want to run a daycare my whole life,’” Almond recalls.
With that thought, she enrolled in her first BYU Independent Study courses in 2016, determined to complete her generals from home before beginning a full college experience.
In 2017 Almond gave birth to her youngest child. Like her oldest, he was born with special needs. At that point, Almond realized how important her education would be in providing a stable lifestyle for herself and her family. She enrolled in on-campus classes at BYU the following year, ready to begin her degree in earnest.
“I chose BYU originally because the accounting program is so good,” Almond says. “But then I took the Accounting 301 class and realized the major was not the best match for me. At the same time, I was taking the IS 201 class and loving the material. The course was challenging in a way that I’ve never been challenged before. My family and I want to be able to travel around the world, and information systems work provides that flexibility, so I felt that the IS major was a nice fit.”
Almond ended up applying to both the accounting and information systems programs. As a testament to her hard work, she was accepted to both.
“I decided on information systems, and the COVID-19 pandemic hit that same year,” Almond recalls. “With four kids at home and not knowing how the school year was going to pan out for them, I deferred my acceptance. Since homeschooling was likely on the table and I have two children with special needs, I needed the year off, especially since I was entering the junior core.”
A phone call from Caroline Thorne, the IS program advisor, changed that decision. She had been following Almond’s school journey because it mirrored her own experience: Thorne had also gone to school later in life. “If I had paused my schooling, I wouldn’t have finished,” she explained to Almond. “I don’t want that to happen to you. What can we do to make this school year work for you?”
Thorne helped Almond arrange her junior core schedule so she had fewer credits. True to Almond’s prediction, she had kids coming home almost daily after being exposed to COVID. They completed online classes alongside their mother, who was grateful for the adjusted schedule. Almond’s learning stayed on pace, and she graduated with her bachelor’s degree in information systems in May 2022.
But she isn’t finished yet. After a summer of traveling through Italy and France with her family, Almond has another milestone ahead of her: she was accepted to the MISM program at BYU Marriott this year. She will return to campus in fall 2022 to earn a graduate degree.
“I’m excited. I mean, I have to finish another year of school,” Almond says, laughing, knowing all too well the surprises each year can hold. “But I’m excited to dive in.”
Writer: Zelle Harris