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Soon-to-be college grad, 17-year-old looks to doctoral work

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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — At 17, Peter Justin Reed has finished the requirements for a university degree at a time when most have yet to start college.

"I'm just kind of proud of how much I worked," said Reed, who enrolled in UA at 14. "The age thing doesn't hit me very often."

At the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, Reed will be the youngest to have graduated this semester after majoring in both biology and chemistry — biochemistry, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette ( ) reported. He turns 18 next month.

No comprehensive history of especially youthful graduates from UA was available. At least one other 17-year-old has earned a bachelor's degree from UA, according to archives of university announcements. UA spokesman Steve Voorhies noted that in 2013, an 18-year-old earned a bachelor's degree.

For Reed, an honors graduate with straight-A grades, future plans involve taking a break for a year and then enrolling in a physician-scientist program at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

The training will allow Reed to become a medical doctor in addition to offering advanced research opportunities.

Reed describes his college experience at UA — even from the start — as one of blending in more than standing out.

"I mean, none of the other students really knew," said Reed of his freshman classmates. He enrolled at 14, but, standing more than 6 feet tall, his age wasn't apparent.

His academic accomplishments include what he and his father said is a 4.0 grade-point average with only a few grades from this term still unknown.

Along with the academic highlights, Reed described his time at college as typical of that of other students.

"I made a lot of friends with people that are four years older than me," Reed said. Age came up, but "I mean, I act the same age as them and have had all the same experiences as them."

With an easy laugh, Reed sounds like a typical college student, describing a "really chill" professor and grinning mischievously when talking about nicknames bestowed upon him by friends. His days involved plenty of studying, he said, but also time to hang out with what he described as a diverse group of friends, not necessarily all from the lab or his science classes.

Reed said a friend from his freshman year began working in UA's Center for Multicultural and Diversity Education as what the university calls a student ambassador.

"She introduced me to all her friends, and I just kind of stuck around," said Reed, describing how he became a tutor at the center that also has served as a sort of social hangout.

Christian Tipsmark, an assistant professor of biological science at UA, took Reed into his lab as a student researcher two years ago, not hesitating even after learning his age. He said Reed is a cheerful person who has been helpful to other students.

"He's a kid, still in some sense, but even so he seemed mature," said Tipsmark, describing Reed as having "a high degree of independence."

Reed's father, Justin, home-schooled his only child and sat in on Reed's interview with a reporter. The divorced single father used the word "self-taught" to describe his son.

"I just knew he was learning something every day from reading books on his own. I wasn't too concerned," Justin Reed, 52, said.

When Reed enrolled at UA, he also left home, living alone in an off-campus apartment to be within a short scooter ride to campus rather than staying in his father's home south of Fayetteville. They had moved to Arkansas about six years ago from Missouri.

Cooking and cleaning up after himself were things he had learned to do at home, Reed said. By 16, he had formal, legal emancipation, which allowed him to go to Honduras on a medical mission trip with other UA students.

Apart from Tipsmark's lab — where undergraduates are expected to work about 10 hours weekly — Reed also volunteers weekly at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Fayetteville.

If there's one notable difference in his collegiate life compared with his classmates, it may be that Reed said he's only missed a class maybe once because of illness and a few other times when interviewing for graduate programs.

"I just wanted to go to class," Reed said.

Asked about the importance of determination to academic success, Reed said, "I think it's more important than intelligence."


Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette,

This is an AP Member Exchange shared by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

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