Thessalonika Arzu-Embry rushes.
She rushed to finish her bachelor’s degree by age 14, and her master’s degree by 16. The 18-year-old is now rushing to wrap up her Ph.D. in business psychology at Capella University in the fall.
“If I see opportunity to go forward, I would say, ‘Why slow it down?'” Arzu-Embry said. “It’s best to go through it and take advantage of the opportunity, because it will help other people as a whole; it will help businesses and society.”
Arzu-Embry, who recently moved from the North Chicago area to Chicago, is writing her dissertation on dreams, which she said a lot of people think of as “junk mail” but can be an interesting way of looking at what they’re experiencing in life.
She’s also pursuing her various business enterprises, developing apps for Google and Apple systems, pushing her books and attending speaking engagements. She hopes to use her doctorate degree to contract with companies in the aviation industry to help them adjust for human factors and keep employees from doing bad things while in the air.
Arzu-Embry also mentors 11-year-old Dorothy Jean Tillman, who has completed her associate’s degree, through her Jump the Education Barrier program.
Tillman’s mother, Jimalita Hunter, said she remembers meeting Arzu-Embry during the 2013-14 school year. She had seen articles she’d written and seen her speak once, and she was really impressed.
Hunter said she liked that family was important to Arzu-Embry, that her program allowed children like her daughter to just be a kid and that she talks to her daughter about social issues as well as the academic. It helps to get advice from someone who is “not her mother and is close to her age.”
The businesses are a family affair, said Arzu-Embry’s mother, Wanda Embry, a Navy veteran who, along with her older son, Jeremy Embry, joined her daughter in Chicago for a meeting about developing an app. Both siblings are working on their doctorate degrees after getting their bachelor’s and master’s degrees at young ages.
“To be successful with anyone, it takes a whole team,” Wanda Embry said. “It takes a family. It takes love. It takes commitment, planning, lots of things, so when one person succeeds in a family, all succeed in a family. That’s how we tend to see things.”
Arzu-Embry first became interested in aviation through her father, Carlos Arzu, an Air Force veteran who still works in the industry. Her earliest memories of being in a plane date back to when she was just 2 or 3, with the flights the military family would take from one small airport to another.
She loved traveling and started flying lessons herself about two years ago, she said. At an air show when Arzu-Embry was about 5 years old, she got to sit in a plane and an instructor showed her how it worked.
Arzu-Embry started college early too, attending courses with her mother, who was pursuing a psychology degree while home-schooling her children. She eventually started attending classes at the College of Lake County, where she thought her interests would lie in medicine. But, then, like her mother, she became more intrigued with how the brain works.
The interest in psychology was helpful as Thessalonika pursued her schooling, helping her overcome and respond to questions involving her age as she sought the necessary approvals to enroll in academic programs, she said. She’s still encountering those barriers in the business world, but she finds that knowing how to speak the language — be it with developers or those in another industry — helps people know that she’s qualified.
“When children are born, they don’t know anything and they depend on their parents to walk, to talk, to use the potty, to read and to do all these things. And then, at some point, then they start to get it on their own,” Wanda Embry said. “That’s what happened with Thessa. She began to catch on quick.
“When she was going to college with me, she became my study partner. I would talk to her about my school books and ideas. Then she would start giving her opinion about it and participating in the assignment.”
Embry added that she wasn’t surprised, saying both of her children seemed to catch on quickly to things, and she tried to use everything as a learning opportunity. She said she was pretty strict but in a loving way, applying her background in the Navy to her parenting, encouraging them to get up early and work hard.
The approach worked for Thessalonika, who encourages other students “to keep going, know their academic plan, have a plan while they’re going through school — don’t be aimless.” and to find a support system if they don’t have one.