After moving to Arizona with her family when she was 16, Jessica Rockowitz had no plans to return to Massachusetts. Then she heard about the Keys to Degrees Program at Endicott College in Beverly.
She was 17 and five months pregnant.
Keys to Degrees allows academically qualified single parents to be full-time students and live on campus with their children.
“I was reluctant,’’ said Rockowitz. “I didn’t want to leave Arizona.’’
She had graduated from high school a semester early and completed four classes at a community college just weeks before her daughter, Hayley, was born on Christmas Day 2004.
“I wasn’t keen on the idea [of Endicott] at first,’’ Rockowitz said. “But when I saw the school, I loved it.’’
She and Hayley, then 8 months old, arrived on campus in August 2005.
“It was a huge adjustment,’’ said Rockowitz, now 24. “I felt like I was at a disadvantage being from out of state. My support system wasn’t there. A lot of the girls had their kids in high school. I had never gone through school with a child. And I was taking five classes.
“I called my mom and said ‘I don’t know how I am going to do this,’ ’’ she continued. “I finished with straight As the first semester, and that gave me confidence, and I just kept going.’’
Initially a communication major, she decided she wanted to go into medicine after taking a class on world diseases. She switched majors, and graduated in 2010 with a degree in biotechnology.
She went to work at Harvard as a research assistant, recently taking time off to apply to graduate schools at Columbia University, University of Pennsylvania, and the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.
Last New Year’s Eve she married Kyle Fiedler, a former Endicott student she met her freshman year and dated throughout college.
“Some students had a negative attitude toward us, but as a whole they didn’t,’’ said Rockowitz. “I had a lot of friends there from outside the program. But I found my best friends in the program.
“Most people say the program is so great because you get a chance to get your degree,’’ she said. “But really, for me it was the college experience. I pity people who will never get that. It was just an amazing time in my life.
“The fact I was a teen parent and still got the opportunity to have a genuine college experience is amazing to me.’’
Rockowitz said her goal is to become a nurse practitioner or physican’s assistant. And, she said, “I want more kids.’’