When Gary Young first enrolled in the online MBA program at NNU in 2008, he didn’t realize that he and his daughter JJ would end up sharing a graduation day in spring 2012. But, as part of a long line of NNU graduates in his wife’s family, perhaps he should have guessed it. For the Bryson/Young family, NNU has always been a family affair.

The Bryson family legacy began at NNU in the 1920s with Cyrus Virgil Bryson and has continued down through his son Carl Bryson in the 1950s, his grandchildren Phil Bryson and Jana (Bryson) Young in the 1980s, and now his great-grandchildren Lacey Engle and JJ Young.

For Young, his own journey to NNU came after several decades of interacting with the NNU community by marrying into the Bryson family. He first visited the campus during his senior year at Portland State University when he came to see his soon-to-be wife Jana while they were dating.

“I visited NNU several times that year and became rather jealous of the small college atmosphere that was such a huge change from PSU,” Young said.

Thirty years and three daughters later, the Youngs are continuing the Bryson family tradition at NNU. This time, Jana is cheering on her husband, as he’s working toward his MBA at NNU.

“Jana has been very supportive of this whole process,” Young said. “She has patiently put up with my hiding with books and my laptop and muttering about assignments. The fact that we will both have degrees from NNU is a pretty cool thing.”

"It's been interesting to compare notes because we're in two very different programs—business and social work, graduated and undergraduate—and I'm on campus while he's online," said JJ.

Two of their three daughters are also NNU alumni. Their oldest daughter Lacey graduated from NNU with a mathematics degree in 2008 and married 2009 NNU graduate David Engle. The Young’s middle daughter JJ is completing her senior year of study for a bachelor’s degree in social work and plans to graduate from NNU the same day her dad graduates with his MBA.

She said that throughout their four years of studying, she and her dad helped cheer each other on toward graduation.

“There have been times when one of us would get frustrated or tired of homework, and we would remind each other that we had to walk together,” Young expressed. “It was a great motivator for when times got tough.”

Both Young’s said that although their individual academic programs are unique to their interests and stages of life, it’s been fun to talk about their studies together.

“It’s been interesting to compare notes because we’re in two very different programs–business and social work, graduate and undergraduate–and I’m on campus while he’s online,” said JJ. “The fact that we are both racing to the finish line is the best part,” Young stated. Grandparents, dads, sisters: We’re all NNU

When Young first began her college selection process in high school, she wasn’t overly excited about becoming part of the Bryson family tradition at NNU. In fact, she said that at first her family’s deep roots with NNU were actually a deterrent to her desire to attend the University.

“The expectation from people that I would go upset me, and I was determined for a while not to go to NNU,” Young said. “But God distinctly told me to go to NNU. As with many things, I don’t know why God has asked me to do them, but when I do, I don’t regret my decisions.” Young shared that watching her go through that decision-making process was just the beginning of her growth at NNU.

“JJ continues to display a strong Christian faith,” her dad said. “She readily shares the story of how she didn’t want to go to NNU, but God had other ideas; and she has come to see that God rarely loses arguments.”


Visit the Young family in their hometown, Portland, Oregon. Select the 'i' in the upper left-hand corner for captions.

Another growing experience for both daughters came through their travel overseas with Youth In Mission while students at NNU. Lacey traveled to Africa, and JJ traveled to Argentina to work with missionaries.

“Going to Argentina was one of the best experiences of my life,” Young said. “What can be more beautiful than going to another culture and being enveloped in it while you fellowship with other believers? So many times it’s hard to know what your place is in life and in the body of Christ. I wouldn’t trade my time in Argentina for the world. I think I found my place there. Support is what I know how to do, and I do it well. My job in life is to be a behind-the-scenes supportive person for whatever God is doing. That was so exciting to discover.”

Now that Young is wrapping up her degree in social work, she hopes to use what she’s learned at NNU about herself and her field to pursue a career in social work in the Nampa area after graduation.

For Young, the decision to pursue his MBA at NNU was all about challenging himself academically and positioning himself for a promotion in his career.

“Several of my co-workers have earned MBAs through a university here in Portland. While I wanted to work towards the MBA, I didn’t want to do the same old program everyone else was doing,” Gary said.

“The challenge for me was to see if I could compete academically with the current generation of students,” he shared.

Young works as a senior business analyst in information technology for Portland General Electric, where he has been for 32 years. He said that when he was looking for an MBA program, the spiritual focus of the NNU professors appealed to him.

“Several of my co-workers have earned MBAs through a university here in Portland. While I wanted to work towards the MBA, I didn’t want to do the same old program everyone else was doing,” Gary said. “Also, the support and focus of my NNU professors on spiritual life has been a great addition to the program. Even the simple thing of having a spot on the class discussion board to post prayer concerns has been wonderful. NNU is fundamentally a very good place to learn and a very supportive environment for the students.”

Young said he appreciates the close relational ties throughout the NNU community. For example, he said that Dr. Ralph Neil, the pastor who officiated his and Jana’s wedding, later went on to teach at NNU. Decades later, Dr. Neil also performed the wedding ceremony for their daughter Lacey and her husband, David, in 2008. Four generations and counting

In November, Northwest Nazarene University will kick off its centennial celebration: 100 years of NNU tradition in Christian higher education. With four generations of NNU graduates in their family, the Bryson/Young family’s history with NNU stretches back over the vast majority of the last century at NNU. For the Brysons and Youngs, NNU is not just their alma mater–it’s a family legacy.

“It’s kind of neat to be a fourth generation of something,” said Young. “I don’t know exactly why God wanted me at NNU, but there has been so much learning, growing and just plain beautiful things that have happened since I came to Nampa. There have been difficult things, too, of course, but God uses everything. I’m glad God brought me here.”


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