Up to the challenge

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Jake Rapp works toward a philosophy, politics, and law degree.

Jake Rapp admits he was not a good high school student.

“I didn’t do the work. I was lazy,” he explains.

Today, Rapp is a pioneer in a new degree field, holds a 3.81 GPA as a triple-major, and serves as both a resident assistant on campus and a mentor to high school students. In short, “lazy” is not the word that comes to the minds of those who know Rapp today as a Northern Arizona University undergraduate – rather, he is a prime example of what a university student can achieve, both to his fellow students and those he mentors.

Pioneering pre-law

When he graduates this May, Rapp will be the second student from Northern Arizona University to be granted a Philosophy, Politics, and Law (PPL) degree. Jeff Downard, a philosophy of law professor and one of Jake’s mentors, describes the degree as a challenging, advanced path for the department’s finest students, with the curriculum pulling from a variety of subject areas, including philosophy, political science, criminal justice, and economics.

Rapp believes this is what makes the degree great preparation for law school.

“When I bring up the PPL, there are a lot of people who are interested in it,” Rapp says. “There are a lot of people here who want to be ‘pre-law,’ and they do criminal justice or political science, but this is more of what they have in mind, where you’re doing economics and law, as well as critical thinking in philosophy.”

The PPL major alone is strenuous enough, Downard explains, which makes it so remarkable that Rapp is earning two other degrees in anthropology and philosophy alongside it.

“The fact that he’s taking courses for two other majors in addition to this pretty vigorous major itself demonstrates what a hardworking student he is,” Downard says.

After graduating Northern Arizona University, Rapp’s plans include pursuing a graduate degree in philosophy. Although he is one of the hardest working students on campus, he says he wouldn’t be as involved as he is without the help and support of the university.

“Just having that kind of faculty — having these people here — getting me interested in things I actually cared about and helping me take all of this stuff on; it shows how lucky I am that I came here,” Rapp says. “I wouldn’t trade it.”

Learning through teaching

In addition to his coursework, Rapp is one of many Northern Arizona University students involved in the philosophy mentoring program, where university students visit local high schools and teach their younger counterparts about philosophy and what it takes to be a student. As one of the professors who runs the mentoring program, Downard says he pushed Rapp to join.  

“When I found out he was thinking about going into graduate school and perhaps being a teacher at some point, I basically twisted his arm, week after week, telling him that it would be a real mistake to go off to graduate school without seeing what teaching was like first,” Downard says.

Downard explains that the strength of the program lies in its ability to enable students to take the reins of their own education by meeting outside of class to discuss philosophy topics and pursue areas to complement their studies.     

“It’s very much a department where we encourage students to go out and find things that will be rewarding for their education, because a significant portion of what students learn is outside of the classroom,” Downard says. “And we think our students have really built an atmosphere where they can share and help one another grow as budding intellectuals.”

Despite his initial hesitation, Rapp is thankful for the knowledge and experience he earned through the program.

“It’s really enjoyable,” Rapp said. “I’ve always been kind of hesitant about teaching anyone who is significantly younger than me – like a high school student – but I was dead wrong about that. It’s a lot of fun.”

On top of his academic life, Rapp also works in McKay Village as a resident assistant. He says the everyday experiences and interaction with residents has been an invaluable experience.

“This is my third year here in McKay,” Rapp says. “I really enjoy it: I’ve learned a lot about people in general. More so than just conflict resolution; I’ve learned things that I can apply to everyday life.”