Kaile Jacobson, of Makawao,
Hawaii, will have two degrees from North Platte Community College by next
spring. When not studying, Jacobson can be found in the arena, competing for
the college’s rodeo team.
There aren't many palm trees in Nebraska, but that's OK.
Kaile Jacobson learned a long time ago that it's not the scenery that makes a home – it's the people.
Jacobson is starting on her third year and second degree at North Platte Community College. She's originally from Makawao, a town located on the Hawaiian island of Maui.
She grew up surrounded by beaches and sunshine, and Nebraska was not on her list of destinations.
"It's cold here," said Jacobson as she sat inside the McDonald-Belton Building on NPCC's South Campus on Tuesday. "The first winter was horrible. I didn't know how to drive or dress. I found out the Uggs I brought from Hawaii were not waterproof, and I fell a lot on the ice."
Fortunately, the process of adjusting to new norms and being so far from home was cushioned by a built-in support system at NPCC.
Jacobson's roommate, Kandace Ward, and her family, welcomed Jacobson with open arms. They took her to family events, included her on trips and even threw a graduation party for her.
"They have been a big part of my journey, for sure," said Jacobson. "Everyone at the college has been so kind and supportive. The rodeo boosters are like second moms, I have an incredible bond with my teammates, and I can go to my coaches, advisors and instructors about anything. I love that. I love the closeness of it all."
Jacobson wasn't entirely alone when she started taking classes at NPCC in the spring of 2014. Two of her high school classmates, Aukai Kaai and Kaulana Funes, were already there competing on the college's rodeo team. They had been encouraging her to join them for months.
Jacobson was intrigued by the idea of joining the rodeo team. She had always wanted to compete in college rodeo, but could never afford it. It was NPCC's nursing program, however, that sealed the deal.
"I had spent two years at the University of Hawai'i Maui College doing my prerequisites for nursing, but the waiting list for the nursing program there was really long," said Jacobson. "I would have been on it for five years."
At NPCC, she could step right in. Most of her credits would transfer over, leaving just a couple of prerequisites still to complete. She flew back to NPCC with Funes in January of 2014 and entered the nursing program that fall.
Jacobson also joined the college's rodeo team – competing in team roping, breakaway roping and barrel racing. It didn't take the team's coaches, Dustin Elliott and Garrett Nokes, long to see her potential.
"Initially, the plan was just for me to try rodeo in the spring and see if I liked it," said Jacobson. "But then at the third rodeo, Dustin and Garrett said they would give me a rodeo scholarship if I stayed."
She took them up on the offer and is so glad she did.
"The scholarship was a huge help to my family," said Jacobson. "My parents are really supportive and would have made it work, but without the scholarship, paying for more college would have been difficult."
Kanoa Awai-Dickson, of Kula, Hawaii, and Jacobson compete in the team roping during a college rodeo in 2015.
The scholarship was full-tuition for two years. The catch was that Jacobson would need to take 15 credits per semester to keep it. She only had nine in the nursing program.
"That doesn't sound like much, but with clinicals and everything, it was a lot," said Jacobson. "Still, I couldn't afford not to take the scholarship. I did the only thing I could think of. I added business classes. My teammates would tease me because I took four bags of study materials to every rodeo."
The hard work paid off, and Jacobson graduated from the college's Associate Degree of Nursing program in the spring of 2017. At that point, she realized that with just one more year of college, she could earn a business degree as well.
"I decided to go for it," said Jacobson. "You never know what will happen in the future. Something might prevent me from being a nurse, and I could need a desk job. Business is a backup plan."
Jacobson takes time out of commencement ceremonies in May for a picture with her rodeo team coaches, Dustin Elliott, left, and Garrett Nokes, right.
Jacobson is on track to graduate in May with an Associate of Applied Science degree in Business Office Technology with a medical emphasis. Her ultimate goal is to work in a neonatal intensive care unit.
"I like intensive care, and I like babies - just not the labor and delivery part," said Jacobson. "During clinicals, I thought the NICU was fascinating."
She plans to eventually pursue a bachelor's degree in nursing, but has decided to stay and work in North Platte until then.
She still finds the winters to be incredibly cold, and the friends that initially brought her to the community have since moved away. Yet, Jacobson has developed a fondness for North Platte that she can't walk away from.
"It's a good place for us islanders," said Jacobson. "It's small, friendly and welcoming. In the end, that's what really counts."
Jacobson competes in barrel racing during a rodeo in 2015.
And while it's expensive for her to travel back to her homeland, she hasn't completely left it behind. She's surrounded by reminders all the time.
"I just shipped my horse up here, and my best friend from Hawaii, Eliza Vierra, moved here over the summer," said Jacobson. "She's also taking classes at NPCC."
Jacobson's brother will join them after he graduates from high school in the spring – ensuring that the college has a strong Hawaiian presence for years to come.