When Cassandra Hartsell needs to borrow a textbook, she doesn’t need to look far. In fact, there are three other TKU students in her own family. Her three daughters Chloe, Carissa Byrd, and Caity Byrd, attend The King’s University with Cassandra all at the same time. Cassandra has been earning a Bachelor of Biblical and Theological Studies and hopes to graduate in December. Her three daughters Carissa, Caity, and Chloe have each been pursuing a Bachelor of Worship Leadership degree.
Putting four members of their family through college at TKU simultaneously was not the plan initially. Their collective presence at the school has been a journey that began with Carissa.
Carissa had been attending a community college but wanted to find a ministry-related school. “We couldn’t find a Christian college anywhere near here,” her mom, Cassandra, says. “We looked at Kansas City, Pensacola, Oklahoma City, and even talked about California, but it’s so far away.”
Three different people at Carissa’s church recommended TKU to her—or, as Carissa describes it, “three times until I finally listened.” So, she toured the school with Caity and Cassandra. “As soon as I stepped into the building, I was like, Wow, this is where I’m supposed to be,” Carissa says. She began attending there in January 2018. At first, she was the only one in her family who was pursuing a degree at TKU.
“When I came home, I would tell my family stories of what I learned and who I met that day,” Carissa says. Witnessing her life as a TKU student inspired the other ladies in her family to think and pray about studying there as well. So Caity and Cassandra began attending TKU in Fall 2018. Then Chloe joined her mother and her sisters at TKU in Fall 2019.
Being a group of four women in one family who all study at TKU at the same time has been quite the adventure. When asked about the challenges of simultaneous pursuit of TKU degrees in the same household, Cassandra says, “Books. Who’s got the book?”
Carissa says, “We’re sharing a book, so literally we’ll have to go each room and be like, ‘Do you have this book? I have to write this paper. And they’ll say, ‘I’m using this book. The paper is due tomorrow.’ We just have to share and pass it around.”
“I’ve gotten smarter and bought books online so they can all read it at the same time,” Cassandra says.
However, being in a family with multiple TKU students has had its advantages, especially when someone needs help with schoolwork. “Everybody in the house can help everybody else,” Cassandra says.
Carissa, who has dyslexia, relies on her family for help specifically with writing papers. “Sometimes I will read my papers out loud to my sisters to make sure I have no grammatical errors before I submit them,” she says.
Attending TKU as a family has offered some humorous moments as well. Caity says that other TKU students often do not realize that she and Carissa are related to each other, and when they find out, they are sometimes shocked. Cassandra says “It’s even funnier” when people realize that Chloe is related to them as well. One time, Carissa was shocked when she walked into a class for the first time and saw her mother sitting there—because she did not know that her mother would be taking the class with her.
However, not everyone in the Hartsell-Byrd household attends TKU. The family adopted Miranda Rodriguez when she was 8 or 9 years old. Miranda, who is 18 now, plans to join the military and is very supportive of her family’s endeavors.
The family’s desire to bring people into their fold extends to their TKU family as well. Their welcome and accepting nature helps new TKU students feel welcome.
With their wide age range and variety in personalities, the Hartsell/Byrd family is like a cross-section of the TKU student population. Carissa and Caity, who both sing on the TKU Chapel worship team, are more of the traditional age for college students (“traditional” being 18-22). Cassandra offers this advice to non-traditional college students: “There are a lot of people your age here. You just maybe have not encountered them yet.”
Chloe, who was 16 when she began studying at TKU, has had a very good experience. “School’s been really nice, and there’s been a lot of people who are always really helpful,” she says.
Caity, a self-proclaimed introvert, echoes this sentiment. “I was nervous even in class, but the professors here are for you, and they’ll help you figure out what you’re doing,” she says.
Carissa, an extrovert, encourages potential TKU students to just dive in. “Don’t worry too much about making friends, because within the first week you’re going to know everyone,” she says.
Cassandra agrees: “You can fit in at TKU, no matter your age.”