The Youngest Graduate
Valerie Sahakian of Smithfield, R.I., took her first college courses when she was just 11 years old. On May 17, as a mature 18-year old, she received a B.S. in math. She was the year’s youngest graduate.
Sahakian had been enrolled in public and private schools through sixth grade, when her parents began to home school her. Soon after, Rhode Island College biology professor Lloyd Matsumoto introduced her to college coursework to see if she was ready for it. She was.
“For me, it was a drive to learn and a desire for more information and more learning experiences,” Sahakian said. “I wasn’t really satisfied with school before, because I didn’t enjoy it when my curiosity was suppressed.’
She quickly fell in love with math, a subject she had always enjoyed working on at home with her father, an engineer. “Math was something that I always felt comfortable with, something I could always fall back on. It wasn’t always easy, but it was worth the effort.”
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When she enrolled full-time at URI in the fall of 2007, she also took an interest in the study of geology. “I’ve always loved earth sciences and nature,” she said. “My brother and I would take off into the woods; things in the natural world fascinate me. It’s interesting to me how everything in nature is all so dynamic and fits together.”
In addition to her URI coursework, Sahakian went on backpacking and climbing trips with the University’s Outing Club, participated in an Irish step dancing club, and enjoyed swimming and other forms of dancing.
As a tutor at the URI Academic Enhancement Center, she also learned that she enjoyed teaching. She led math study sessions for students needing extra assistance, prepared lesson plans, and guided group problem-solving activities.
This fall Sahakian has enrolled in a doctoral program at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, to study geophysics.