Iowa City Press-Citizen: A Mother and Her Sons Work Together As UI Students

By Andy Davis
Iowa City Press-Citizen

Aaron and Ian Nessler say for the last few years, it's been difficult to celebrate Mother's Day with their mom.

That's because Julie Nessler and her two sons are usually too busy studying for finals to make time for the holiday.

The three are enrolled in the University of Iowa's College of Engineering, where Julie and Aaron are both biomedical engineering students and Ian is studying chemical engineering.

"We definitely try to get together on Mother's Day, but it's obviously hard because of finals and all three of us trying to finish off the semester strong," Ian, 22, said Friday. "I usually try to have a bouquet of her favorite flowers — red roses — sent to her with a box of chocolates. We try to get together for dinner, too, but with us being so busy, that's not always the case."

Back to school

Julie Nessler enrolled at UI in 2011, roughly 30 years after she had earned a degree in psychology. At that time, she had started as an engineering student, but as a softball player, she had trouble juggling her time.

"I decided to get my psychology degree and my dad, who was an engineer, and I were eventually going to open an engineering firm," Julie said. "I was going to go back and finish up my engineering degree after I finished up with softball, but he died my senior year of college and at that point I figured I better get my degree, get out and get working."

For 10 years she worked in electron microscopy at the VA hospital in Iowa City, she said, before having children. When Aaron and Ian were born, she said, she decided to work at the home farm and care for them. As her sons got older, she took a job as a paraeducator at their junior high and then moved on with them to City High so she could have the same schedule they did.

"As they got old enough and got into high school, it was like, 'OK, now I have time to not be in the house and not worry about anything.' When I told them I was thinking about going back, they were really supportive. They said it was a great idea, but at the time they were both in high school, so I don't they were thinking, 'Oh, wow, we're going to be in classes together,' " she said with a laugh.Buy Photo

Taking classes with your mom

Julie began taking engineering classes one at a time. In 2012, Ian also enrolled at UI and shared a core class with his mom.

"As a freshman, I had moved into the dorms and had met a new friend group. They had all come from different states, and their interactions with their families were just, 'Oh, I'll call Mom this month maybe,' and they were surprised when they found out I had a class with my mom," Ian Nessler said.

Aaron, 20, said he and his mom had several classes together and spent a considerable amount of time working in the lab as partners. As part of one of their classes, Aaron and Julie had to create a medical device together that could be used to take measurements.

"We used electrodes in order to determine the muscle movements in the forearm and try to translate them into computer screen movements," Aaron Nessler said. "It went pretty smooth because I didn't hesitate to correct some of the smaller things like I would in a group. I knew how to interact with her, and we weren't afraid of each other, so we could correct any small things that were wrong; I think that made us a much more efficient group."

Last year, all three of their names were listed on the Spring 2015 Dean's List.

Preparing for graduation

Julie said as the trio finish their classes, there will be a slew of graduation ceremonies. Ian is on pace to graduate next week; Julie plans to graduate in December, and Aaron expects to graduate next May.

Just a week and a day after he graduates, Ian said he and his fiancee will leave Iowa City for Ann Arbor, Mich., where he'll pursue a Ph.D. in chemical engineering at the University of Michigan.

"It's a bittersweet time, with me moving to Michigan during the summer. My fiancee and I will graduate, and then all of a sudden we're moving to a new state, and that's probably going to be the first time my mom won't follow me," Ian said.

Aaron said he plans to begin pre-med studies after he graduates.

Julie said she hopes to continue work with her Iowa Medical Innovation Group. For the last two semesters, she has worked as part of an 11-membeinterdisciplinary group that has developed and received a provisional utility patent for prosthetic sockets.

"Two of us in the group will graduate in December, and we've been talking about possibly of working further on that," Julie said.

With her and her sons' time tied up in finals prep around Mother's Day again this year, she said they will probably have a short celebration.

"I've been asked if we have any big Mother's Day plans, and I keep saying with the three of us studying for finals it'll probably be a quick get together at lunch type of thing and then everybody breaks and goes home and studies," she said.Buy Photo

A unique experience

Aaron said working on classwork with his mom has given him a new perspective.

"As a kid, I always looked up to my parents. They were always these superhuman people that took care of me. Now, I'm able to relate with them more and see them more as people, and people who I can be friends with," he said.

Julie has become something of an inspiration as she works toward her graduation, Ian said.

"She has all these other things she has to worry about. She's trying to take care of two kids and trying to take care of her house, the farm — where I'm just trying to get an undergraduate degree," Ian said.

Julie said working through UI with her children has been an adventure and an opportunity to watch them grow up as they work through their education.

"It's been a pretty good outing to spend so much time with the boys. It amazes me, and I think they do a better job than me on time management and getting their stuff done. I've told more than one professor that 'he's more organized than I am,' " she said with a chuckle.