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Release: Sept. 15, 1999

UI's NAASE program gives high school students a chance to start college early

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- University of Iowa student Eileen Lee has a lot on her mind this semester. Studying for her pre-med classes. Playing violin for the University of Iowa Symphony Orchestra. Picking out a dress for her high school prom next year.

Lee, 17, is clearly not your typical UI freshman. An aspiring physician, she is one of 10 high school students from across the country who make up the inaugural class of the Belin-Blank Center's National Academy for the Arts, Sciences and Engineering (NAASE) this year.

"I've wanted to be a doctor since I was 8," said Lee, previously a student at Valley High School in West Des Moines. "I've always been interested in being able to help people who were not feeling very well."

NAASE, the first program of its kind at a major research institution, allows students with high academic ability a chance to move into the stimulation of university research and course work, so long as they have completed their junior year in high school. Academy students are accepted automatically as freshmen into the University of Iowa Honors Program and live together on the Honors Residence Hall floors.

Nicholas Colangelo, director of the Belin-Blank Center, said the program is intended for students who have reached their potential in high school and want to get a head start on their college careers. While a high school diploma isn't required, students who want them are encouraged to make arrangements with their schools so college credit can be applied toward any remaining high school requirements and they can graduate with their former classmates.

"We find there's a number of kids out there who are just ready for college," Colangelo said. "They're in a holding pattern."

While the academy organizes some special activities for the students, the students take regular college classes along with the more traditional freshmen.

"There is no such thing as a NAASE class," Colangelo said.

On the other hand, staff and faculty involved with NAASE understand that the transition from high school to college can be challenging, and they keep in regular contact with academy students and their parents. That's why applicants must demonstrate maturity, as well as high grades and standardized test scores, before they're considered for the program.

"The students are well-rounded," Colangelo said, adding that most are involved in sports, music or other activities. One student, in fact, is training for a national bike racing competition and has her eye on one day competing in the Olympics.

Lee is no exception, although she is exceptional. She earned a 35 ACT composite score, an 800 SAT verbal score and she maintained a 4.088 grade point average in high school.

A Presidential Scholar, Lee spent one past summer at the University of Iowa helping conduct genetic research through the Secondary Student Training Program. She spent this summer at Harvard University, where she took a number of advanced placement courses, including biochemistry.

A gifted musician, Lee has played the violin since she was 4 and the piano since she was 8. When she's not playing for the UI Symphony Orchestra, she teaches violin lessons.

"Music is a wonderful pastime, but it's not a life for me," Lee says.

Lee said that initially she had reservations about leaving Valley High School before her senior year. She changed her mind after talking with her parents and meeting with Belin-Blank officials.

"I have wonderful teachers back at home, and I really did not want to go so soon. It seemed kind of a leap," she said. "On the other hand, I seemed ready to get out and leave the sheltered high school atmosphere."

Despite being slightly younger than her classmates, she said she and the other NAASE participants aren't much different than other college students.

"We're a pretty diverse lot, but no more than your usual freshmen," she said. "Basically, we skipped a year, and now we're in college."

Lee said she's just one government course away from getting her high school diploma and expects to return to Valley High School next May.

"Oh yeah, I definitely plan to go to the prom and dance," she said.