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BHS student to earn college degree before high school diploma
Posted 03/06/2020 11:33AM

By Lauren McDonald

Madison Lee will graduate college before earning her high school diploma.

You read it right. The 18-year-old Brunswick High School student is on track to earn her bachelor's degree in biology this May at College of Coastal Georgia's commencement, before she receives her high school diploma from BHS later that month.

Lee will be making history on college commencement day. She will be the first student at CCGA to graduate with a bachelor's degree before earning a high school diploma.

Lee began dual enrollment at CCGA after completing eighth grade. She took a few high school classes her eighth-grade year.

That she will graduate college is no surprise to her. She's had her sights set on earning her bachelor's degree at the college since day one.

She is taking 20 hours of classes this semester, and she averaged around 17 hours per semester through the past four years, she said.

Pacing herself has helped.

"My first semester, I took a lighter load to make sure I could handle it because it was such a dramatic change from middle school to here," Lee said.

She soon discovered a major difference between high school and college. In college, "you're not babied. You're not told, 'This is your homework for the day,' 'Make sure you study.' ... You have to do it yourself, and it was a bit of an adjustment."

Lee can pretty much count on one hand the number of times she's visited her high school. All her classes the past four years have been on the college campus.

"I think I've been in the (BHS) building maybe five times," she said.

Lee plans to pursue a career in infectious diseases and work for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention one day.

She's applying now to graduate school programs and weighing her options about where to attend.

"I've applied to, I don't know how many, a lot," Lee said. "I've got into a (John) Hopkins master's program ... and I had an interview with (University of Texas Medical Branch School of Medicine), so I'm waiting to hear their decision."

In her spare time, Lee loves to ride and take care of horses, and she volunteers at animal hospitals specializing in equine medicine. It's a passion that has served as an outlet for her during the stressful periods of the dual enrollment experience.

"I ride horses in my free time, and I travel and I show, and I just used that as more of a crutch during that time period as a really easy way to de-stress," she said. "And if I was having a rough day, I'd go out to the barn. I'd step away from the school and go to the barn."

She was 14 when she began taking classes at CCGA. She said she tried not to tell others her age at first. Soon, though, her friends on campus embraced the age gap.

"My friends now, they just kind of have fun with it," she said. "They've got the entire science faculty referring to me as 'baby genius,' which is annoying."

The college faculty helped her with the abrupt transition and have contributed to her success on campus.

"Dr. (Holly) Nance has really, really helped me," Lee said. "She was my Biology 2 professor, and I've had her just about every semester from there. And she really played a huge role in keeping me going and motivating me."

Dual enrollment taught Lee how to be more independent and has prepared her for graduate school.

"It's just pushed me harder than a high school setting would, from the standpoint that you're on your own over here," Lee said. "It really teaches you to be more independent and to stand on your own two feet because you're making it happen."

Changes are coming to the Georgia's dual enrollment program, though. High school students in the state will likely face a cap on the number of college courses for which the state will pay. House Bill 444, which has been approved by the state legislature and now awaits Gov. Kemp's signature, limits students to 30 hours of college credit. That equals about one year of college, typically.

Nonetheless, Lee encouraged all who can to take advantage of dual enrollment.

The program expands a students' options and gives them more flexibility in the education experience than they can receive during high school.

"That's what I think is so great about this program, is you can do high school if you're not ready or if you don't want to come to the college," she said. "Or you can come to the college if you're ready and you want to. It opens another door for students to change their school to fit how they want to learn and how they want to succeed."

Republished with the permission of The Brunswick News. Originally published in The Brunswick News.

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