|Year of Entry: 2005
||Age at Entry: 13
||Hometown: Charlotte, North Carolina
PEG: Because That’s Just Who I Am
I am not sure I can remember how many times in the last five years I’ve been asked, “How did you get where you are now?” in reference to my age and accomplishments. My response has grown to be, “I did what I do, and it got me here,” but that is only partly true. How many of us get to be who we truly are? I would wager that answer is closely associated with how similar to surrounding social norms ‘you’ are. I believe the Program for the Exceptionally Gifted (PEG) at Mary Baldwin College does the best anyone can hope for with a gifted child – a child who transcends expected norms. PEG developed in me all the traits I already had as well as those I needed to acquire, but it also gave me the confidence and skill to use them. I don’t believe anywhere else could have done that for me.
Like many of my sisters, I excelled in every subject before college and was curious about everything, devouring subjects at an alarming rate. However, I already had many more options for advancement as my parents devoted the time to homeschool me, while giving me access to high involvement co-ops, competitive debate, mathematics and community service teams, and any online courses that I desired to take. The fact was, by 13, I had already taken advantage of every opportunity I was given. I was also much more focused than anyone I knew under 20, having been motivated for as long as I can remember to go into research in future transportation. So when I turned 12, I realized I needed more advanced instructors in the sciences and engineering and more importantly, better lab equipment and physical resources. I began to research college class options and found that despite being in a major city, I was prevented from taking classes until 14 at the youngest, and between 14 and 16 my mother would have to accompany me! After that defeat, I investigated preparatory school options, but all of the all-female options in the region did not fulfill my requirement for scientific or engineering focuses beyond high school level. That left me with co-ed boarding high schools more than a day’s drive away, which was not ideal for my parents. Then my mother remembered seeing an article on PEG in the Duke University – Talent Identification Program (Duke-TIP) handbook I received. We were very impressed with the rigorous but open minded application process, and my parents were pleased with the safe environment PEG created with their own secure dorm fostering academic and personal growth.
Above all, both my parents and I recognized the importance of growing emotionally by being a resident at MBC while continuing academically. Developing as an individual is all about discovering and testing one’s strengths and weaknesses in an environment safe enough to allow mistakes. Another critical factor in my decision was having seen firsthand how easy it is for a woman to get distracted in life from completing academic and professional goals. Having wanted a PhD since I was 8, I saw the danger years for abandoning education coincide with the traditional timeline for finishing an undergraduate degree. Going to college four or five years early gave me the jumpstart I needed to get me through the formative educational years of my career giving me the stability to build any future I could envision.
The First Day Of The Rest Of My Life
My first day at PEG felt like the beginning of the rest of my life. By 2009, the program was well established at the school, and PEGs were accepted as part of the campus fabric by the other students and the professors. I know boys who went early elsewhere, and I know many people, inside my family and out who took classes early, but I know there is nowhere like PEG. Mary Baldwin itself feels like a societal microclimate where students can be so trusted that the honor code is self-enforced, and it is not just the goal of the administration for students to hone their strengths and enhance their education. The small class sizes at Mary Baldwin made it possible for me to seek out and receive attention from professors as an individual student, and I engaged in a requested special study course my first semester giving a presentation of my research at a nearby conference at James Madison University. Safe to say, my time at Mary Baldwin began a love affair with academia, which I know now is very unique. This connection is so very important for a PEG. If I had been forced to stay in a school for four more years of high school classes isolated from intellectually equivalent classmates, I have little doubt I would have grown to hate school.
For me the crowning jewel in PEG’s appeal was the chance to test my mettle as a student. We were given the opportunity to exceed expectations. This is well mediated by enforced study hours. My academic success with a bulky workload and competitive fencing amongst choir and other organizations gave me confidence. No one other than my family and PEG would have let me test my limits like that. I would have just been given more homework in individual classes, permitted to take slightly advanced college courses, and forced into hours of instrument practice, but no way would I have gotten the opportunities that PEG afforded me. That has affected me dramatically today. My interests, though connected, led me to collect nearly 200 undergraduate credit hours and still manage to end up in a graduate program for which I had never had a related course. Mary Baldwin gave me confidence, honed my time management skills, and even the assertiveness I needed to try something no one could be sure I could do.
A huge difference between going to college early and maintaining the status quo of a hometown is complacency. The friendly competition of the PEGs reminded me I was not alone, and I should never let a small pool convince me I was not be ready to excel in an ocean. Most PEGs would have had no trouble becoming valedictorian in their own schools, but that would have only taught us to be as good as we needed to be and to relish success by careful choosing of an opponent. That drive is rarely for excellence, to be the best we can be, but rather to choose a mountain whose height you are sure you can climb. PEG taught me to never compromise academics for comfort and never to settle for professional gain over personal growth. The staff showed me if you know yourself enough to find the right support, you can do it all. We could double major, triple minor. Pursue acting and love science. Being passionate was more important than trying to be perfect, as long as we always kept a measure of logic behind the mesh of possibilities.
Once a PEG … always a PEG. I may not have graduated from Mary Baldwin College, in fact, I only spent a year there before transferring into an engineering program, but my year with the Program for the Exceptionally Gifted was one of the most critical in my professional development and was undeniably influential in my personal growth. I have now attended six institutions of higher learning. Through most of those I was searching for an institution where I could feel as at home and as comfortable as I was at Mary Baldwin while studying the engineering courses I needed for my future. Today, I am two years into my doctoral studies at Virginia Tech in mechanical engineering, and I intend to complete an MBA as well. I chose Virginia Tech in no small reason for their demonstration of commitment to fostering the community and scholarly potential of graduate students in addition to professional support, inside and outside of students’ assigned responsibilities. PEG, and every university since, has changed me, no doubt, but I have the same love of lifelong learning, the same respect for the value of every study, along with realism for the societal worth of some, but I have a greater sense of companionship, better time management, academic skills, and honestly much more respect for the community that is PEG. Now I comprehend its worth to who I am.