A college degree wasn’t originally in the plans for Jason Hartgraves. The 2004 graduate of Ava High School had planned to spend his working years in construction. But in 2008, the recession hit, and the good-paying construction jobs he had been counting on dried up.
It wasn’t until he was “tinkering” around with computers, a long-time hobby of his, that something clicked. “One day, it just made sense. If I wanted job security, I needed to start thinking about going to college,” he said.
Missouri State University-West Plains seemed like the best place to start, he said. “I liked West Plains, it wasn’t that expensive and I wanted a good foundation for my academic career. I felt the campus would let me kick off my academic career successfully,” he explained.
In fall 2009, five years after graduating high school, Hartgraves enrolled in his “new job” and approached his studies toward the Associate of Applied Science in Computer Technology and Associate of Arts in General Studies degrees with the same determination he had given his construction work.
“That first semester, I told myself I would get a 4.0 grade point average that semester, and I’ve told myself that every semester since,” he said. He continues to be a 4.0 student and is a member of the William and Virginia Darr Honors Program and the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society.
But the challenges of being a straight-A student weren’t enough for Hartgraves. He applied for the study abroad program at Missouri State-West Plains’ campus at Liaoning Normal University in Dalian, China and spent five months in the spring of 2011 learning a new language, a new culture and a new perspective on the world.
“I knew I had a problem being out of my comfort zone and I wanted to challenge myself,” he said. “It’s obvious to me today’s society is a global one. Everything we do is interconnected with the world. My time in China gave me the opportunity to learn about that country and the new technologies that connect us and it gave me a boost of confidence in myself. I feel like I can succeed no matter the situation.”
In January 2012, he put these newfound skills to use when he began an internship at JB’s Healthmart in West Plains. Owners Jane and Dan Thomas were taking their business online and needed help perfecting the website and developing the e-commerce site.
“In China I learned to slow down, be patient, be clear and ask questions,” Hartgraves explained. “That experience improved my communication skills and the business management classes I took in China has helped me in making suggestions to the Thomases about business issues.”
The Thomases couldn’t be more pleased with Hartgraves’ work. “It’s going great! He’s been a tremendous asset. I wish I had him every day,” Jane said. “We’re starting to get orders online and we’ve seen an increase in traffic. We’re more than satisfied. He’s just been great!”
In fact, the Thomases have asked Hartgraves to continue working for them after he graduates in May with his degrees. But he won’t be staying long; he plans to transfer to Missouri State University in Springfield to complete a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science degree with minors in mathematics and physics.
“I like a challenge,” he said of his degree choices, adding, “Ultimately, I want to be a part of the new world of technology and help people use it effectively. Technology is growing exponentially and more people are needed who can create it and make it user friendly.”