The bucket list

The dad of an Indiana State student keeps his word and goes back to school after losing — or, winning? — a bet with his daughter.

When Alexa Kinsey heard a “beep” indicating an incoming text message, it was a welcome distraction for the freshman nursing major who, just a few weeks into her first semester at Indiana State University, was hitting the books on a Saturday night.

Alexa set her schoolwork aside for a break, clicked open the text from her mom back home in Middletown, Ind., and smiled when she saw the picture of her dad, Brent Kinsey. He was also studying the night away.

Alexa’s mom wrote, “It’s OK. You’re both doing homework.”

This wasn’t the plan a year ago. Alexa knew nothing about Indiana State and had her heart set on attending a large university, even tossing around the idea of going to a school out of state. Brent had penciled the goal “get a Ph.D.” on his calendar years down the road.

That, of course, was all before Brent made a bet with his daughter that he would return to school for his doctorate of educational administration if she got a full ride to college.

“See, Alexa had applied to many colleges,” Brent says when he begins the story of how he and his oldest of four children both began their pursuits for degrees at Indiana State in August.

“I graduated from Purdue University, and I just assumed that that’s where Alexa would go, too, since she had been accepted into the nursing program there. But when Alexa and her mom came home from their visit to Indiana State, they said they really liked it — the tour, the people and the campus,” he said.

Brent Kinsey, principal of Shenandoah Elementary School, listens intently in his class at Indiana State, where he is working toward a Ph.D. in educational leadership.

Brent Kinsey, principal of Shenandoah Elementary School, listens intently in his class at Indiana State, where he is working toward a Ph.D. in educational leadership.

While Alexa hardly knew anything about Indiana State, she agreed to do the campus tour to appease her mom.

“We both left our visit to campus with a completely different mindset than when we came,” Alexa said.

With her strong academic track record, Alexa was eligible to apply for the President’s Scholarship and went through the interview process.

“I know every parent is proud of their children, but Alexa has always taken the toughest path academically and made great choices,” Brent said. “When we saw that it was becoming a real possibility (that she could get the President’s Scholarship), I told her that if she got a full scholarship, I would go back to school for my Ph.D.”

Getting a doctorate was always a goal for Brent, but one the principal at Shenandoah Elementary School in Middletown had put off well into the future — or at least when three of his four children had flown the nest. And despite knowing his daughter is academically gifted, he thought it was a bet he couldn’t lose.

“But a part of me was saying that if this is what is supposed to happen, I would go through with it,” he said. “Sure enough, we found out that she got the President’s Scholarship and a full-ride to Indiana State. One of the first things Alexa said to me when we got the news was, ‘Now you have to get your Ph.D., Dad.’”

True to his word and not one to back down from a challenge, Brent began driving four hours and 100 miles roundtrip to Terre Haute every Wednesday, where he spends all day at Indiana State attending his three in-person and one online class.

“I always wanted to get my Ph.D., but this deal really sped up the process of me going back to school. Alexa has three younger siblings — one’s a senior, one’s a junior and one’s an eighth-grader — and I was thinking that once the three oldest were in college that would leave just one child at home and it would be a more manageable time to go back to school,” Brent said. “In my program, there are 12 of us in the cohort, and I’ve been really impressed with how organized it is. The professors are great and totally understanding of the fact that we are adults who have lives. This is something that we want to do and they hold us responsible, but they also allow us the freedom to get some things done during class time. It’s been a challenge but very doable.

“I’m blessed to have a support staff around me at school that takes care of a lot of my responsibilities on Wednesdays, and my wife, Amber, is really supportive and takes care of a lot of things at home when I’m gone or have my studies to do.”

Even for a man who was a teacher for 16 years before entering school administration, it is a balancing act to juggle home life, a full-time job and studying. Brent’s efforts haven’t escaped his children, who see firsthand the importance of lifelong learning and that hard work pays off.

“Being in college myself, I couldn’t imagine having a full-time job, one child in college and three other kids at home,” Alexa said. “He works so hard, and that’s definitely a good example for me and my siblings, too.”

Alexa has discovered the perks of having dad on campus each week while she is two hours from home.

“At first, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to see my parents all of the time, but the first Wednesday of college I was texting my dad to see if he wanted to go to lunch,” she said. “I am so glad that he’s on campus, just so that I get to see him and I’m not feeling so homesick. It also helps that if I need anything from home he is able to bring it, like all of my fall clothes I had left back home.”

If all goes well and Brent finishes his classes and dissertation on schedule, Alexa can expect her dad to be on campus until May 2018, which happens to be the same year Alexa’s brother will graduate from high school.

But don’t expect Brent to make the same deal with his son that he made with Alexa.

“I don’t think my next deal with any of my children will be about me going back to school,” Brent said with a laugh. “But I have always wanted to learn to play the piano or fly a plane.”

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