A family that learns together, earns together

Father and son in ASU shirts

Father and son Doug and Brent Kolste graduate together in May when online student Doug Kolste travels to Arizona for the ceremony. Photo courtesy of Kolste family


Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2018 commencement

Graduation. For many, it’s the culmination of four years of dedication, caffeine and great memories. For the entire Kolste family, it means so much more.

In May, Brent Kolste, 28, will cross the stage to shake the dean’s hand and receive his bachelor’s degree in robotics engineering. At the same ceremony, his father, Doug Kolste, 54, will walk the same stage to receive his bachelor’s degree in engineering management, marking the achievement of a family dream over a decade in the making.

“I’ve been doing college on and off for a really long time now,” Brent Kolste said. “In that process, I got married and moved away from my family, and so I’ve always had school lingering. Graduation means that I have finally accomplished that [goal].”

After being in and out of school for several years, the younger Kolste was inspired by his family to return to college. Brent Kolste moved to Arizona with his wife nearly four years ago when she transitioned from community college to Grand Canyon University to pursue a degree in teaching.

With his educational goals back to the forefront, he chose to study robotics engineering at Arizona State University's Polytechnic School, one of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

His father, Doug Kolste, recalls a backpacking trip to climb Mount Whitney in California and the conversations he and his son had about selecting a good degree program.

“I knew Brent was smart enough. I knew he was capable,” Doug Kolste said. “Once he started down the road, with the science and the math, he got really excited about it, and I knew engineering was where he was going.”

Doug Kolste chose a similar path. When his sons were young, he began by taking classes at San Diego State University, intent on getting a degree in electrical engineering. For nearly four decades, he has worked with Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, an information support organization within the Navy in San Diego, and for the past 15 years, he took classes on and off.

His son’s upcoming graduation renewed Doug Kolste’s dedication to complete his degree. Ultimately he chose ASU because of its great reputation and the flexibility it offered through ASU Online. This spring, he’ll graduate with a bachelor’s in engineering management.

“I’m excited for him because he’s been going to school for a really long time too — most of the time I can remember, growing up,” Brent Kolste said. “He’s been on and off doing his degree. I know how that feels now because I’ve been on and off with my degree too. It’s going to be really cool to see him accomplish that part of his past.”

With Doug Kolste already working in the industry, he found that what he learned in the digital classroom often paralleled his work. What he hadn’t learned in practice, the online program strengthened in his profession. However, he admits the online classes have not been without their challenges.

“You’re often an island by yourself,” Doug Kolste said.

Digital learning makes it difficult to interact with classmates, but learning alongside his family made it easier. Brent Kolste said he feels similarly.

“My whole family is doing school now,” Brent Kolste said. “It’s been kind of fun. It’s really easy when you know that everyone you love is doing what you’re doing.”

Education has truly become a family affair. Brent Kolste’s mother, Donna Kolste, returned to school approximately one year ago to continue her education in nursing, aiming for her bachelor’s degree at Chamberlain University. Younger brother Caylan Kolste will be completing his master's in applied mathematics from Washington State University in May.

Graduation season brings with it a lot of traveling for the Kolstes. Doug and Donna Kolste will first go north for the WSU graduation ceremony and then fly down to Tempe two days later for ASU’s Undergraduate Commencement and the Fulton Schools convocation ceremonies.    

After graduation, many changes await Brent Kolste, whose first child is due in August. He has a job lined up in Alamogordo, New Mexico, as an instrumentation engineer with the Air Force.

“It’s kind of a freedom for me that I’ve accomplished what I’ve set out to do, and now I get to move on to the next phase of my life,” Brent Kolste said. “I’m really excited about that.”

Meanwhile, Doug Kolste plans to retire from his current line of work with SPAWAR. His new degree will transition him to a new phase of his career, as he moves from civil service with the government to a commercial sector job. 

He is proud that he and the rest of his family are achieving their long-time aspirations.

“You can’t give up on your goals,” Doug Kolste said. “It doesn’t matter how long it takes.”

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