Thursday, July 23, 2009

Student finds new challenges in China

Aaron Lassman, right, with Sandra, Steffon, and adopted twins Ginger, in yellow, and Jasmine.

Aaron Lassman likes challenges. He drove an ambulance for 13 years in Seattle. He served in the National Guard. He spent six months backpacking through Central America with his wife, Sandra, and 6-year-old son, Steffon.
Steffon is now 16, and the Lassman family lives in Beijing, along with Ginger and Jasmine, 3-year-old twins they adopted from south China. Beijing is about 5,400 miles from Washington State University, as the crow flies. As the mouse clicks, however, it takes only a few seconds for Aaron to attend a course through WSU’s Distance Degree Programs.
Aaron is majoring in social science, with a minor in management information systems. More... Before transferring to WSU, he studied online at Bellevue Community College. “I’ve been a long-distance student for about four years now,” Aaron said during a June visit to Pullman, where he met with his academic advisor, Jaqueline Almdale. “WSU’s program is just amazing. The number of courses offered online is great.”
Aaron is a “trailing spouse,” which is the U.S. State Department’s way of saying he is in Beijing because Sandra is a consular officer at the embassy. She works with immigration and visa services, and helps Americans in trouble, such as those recently quarantined because of H1N1 flu. He works at the embassy doing technical support.
Aaron appreciates China’s good Internet service – except when authorities censor the sites he needs to visit for his studies. “Whatever gets blocked,” he said, “I can do at the office, where we have unfiltered access.”
Unlike China, the Lassman household embraces dissent. While Aaron is a Coug, and comes from a family of Cougs, Sandra is a University of Washington graduate. Their car pays tribute to both allegiances with a “House Divided” sticker. That brings Cougs out of the woodwork.
“People leave cards and notes on the window saying, ‘Hey, I’m a Cougar, too,’” Aaron said. “It’s amazing how many Cougars you run into. If I’m wearing my Cougar hat, they come up to me and say, ‘nice hat.’ ” Do Huskies ever leave notes on the car? “Not so much, no.”
Aaron will graduate from WSU in May. “I was a horrible high school student,” he said. “I graduated with a 2.0. I never wanted to go to college. But I just took a shine to it as a grownup. Now my GPA is 3.7.”
What’s the secret to his success? Jaqueline stepped in: “Aaron’s an excellent student,” his advisor said. “He’s got really good time management skills. He’s well organized. He –”
“He gets lots of support from his family,” Sandra finished, amid peals of laughter.
“I get lots of support from my family,” Aaron said. “Lots of support from my family.”
-- Richard H. Miller/Center for Distance and Professional Education
Photo by Brian Maki/Center for Distance and Professional Education

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