15-year-old student Annabelle Shaffer racks up straight As at Illinois State

When Annabelle Shaffer was in 7th grade, she wanted to learn some additional math concepts, beyond what they were teaching her in school. Her father, Paul Shaffer, M.S. 11, jumped in and began to help.
 
 
 
Soon, it was Paul who was staying up late to study, frantically trying to keep up with Annabelle, who was learning concepts quicker than he could teach them. Paul and his wife, Julie, knew they needed help.
 
 
 
Her ability to grasp information far exceeded my ability to teach it, Paul said with a laugh.
 
 
 
During eighth grade, Annabelle began taking classes at Illinois State. Now 15, shes taken six classes and is planning to return for more in the fall 2015 semester. Shes earned straight As and made the Deans List in the spring 2015 semester—likely one of the youngest students ever to do so.
 
 
 
Shes earned As in challenging classes, such as Statistical Reasoning, Calculus, and General Chemistry, to name a few. (She also earned a 33 on her ACT at age 15.) But for Annabelle and her parents, its the close relationships shes forged with ISU professors and the research opportunities she’s been afforded that prove shes in the right place.
 
 
 
 
School just wasnt that challenging for her, so this certainly provided a challenge for her and gave her tremendous opportunities to engage different professors, said Paul, an administrative aide in the Department of Mathematics. ISU was able to provide the intellectual challenge she was looking for.
 
 
 
 
Annabelle is technically a non-degree seeking unclassified student at Illinois State. Students like that dont need to have a high school diploma to enroll in classes.
 
 
 
I hope to eventually become a neurosurgeon, so I wanted to get a head-start on my pre-medical classes and get more engaged in the academic world, Annabelle said.
 
 
 
 
So whats it like to be sitting in a college class as a 15-year-old? The professors usually discover her age because she always visiting during office hours. The other students dont usually figure it out.
 
 
 
 
The first day or two of class is intimidating, but after that I am just there to learn, Annabelle said.
 
 
 
And shes learning outside the classroom too. Shes been working with Department of Physics faculty members Epaminondas Rosa and Allison Harris on a research project that involves computational modeling of two interacting neurons through chemical and electrical coupling.
 
 
 
Annabelle met Harris through a class. The teenager has since invested a lot of time into developing the necessary skills for this research, including programming and computational neuroscience techniques.
 
 
 
Despite her age, our expectations of her are similar to those of any other beginning undergraduate student, and she is doing quite well, Harris said. I am continually impressed by her willingness to take on such complex research, and her eagerness to learn as much as she can.
 
 
 
 
Its truly a pleasure to work with bright and motivated ISU students like Annabelle, Harris said. Rosa agreed, praising Annabelles effort and dedication.
 
 
 
 
We have really enjoyed working with Annabelle, Rosa told STATEside. Providing the appropriate learning environment to our students is what education at ISU is all about, isnt it?
 
 
 
 
Annabelle has been very appreciative of the help professors Fusun Akman and Roger Day have provided her while studying calculus at ISU.
 
 
 
 
Annabelle turns 16 in August. Now that shell have her drivers license, she hopes to get more involved in campus life and student organizations during the fall 2015 semester, like a regular Redbird. (She already finds time to volunteer at a local hospital and tutor kids at a juvenile detention center.)
 
 
 
 
For now, Annabelle plans to keep taking college classes and probably earn her GED, before enrolling in a formal undergraduate program for fall 2016. She plans to apply to Illinois State. After that, its medical school.
 
 
 
I am definitely putting ISU on my list for colleges just because of the opportunities I have had here, she said.
 
 
 
This summer, shes spending seven weeks at Harvard University to take advanced calculus and neurobiology courses. On August 17, she ll be back on the Quad at Illinois State, just like everyone else.
 
 
 
 
We have been really impressed with the quality of education she received at ISU and the opportunities she had to work closely with professors, said Julie, who works in the Dean of Students Office. We couldnt have really asked for a better situation.
 
 

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