Mason City Globe-Gazette: Jump Start on College

Tyler Babcock, who just finished his junior year at Charles City High School, will start his freshman year of the University of Iowa this fall.

Babcock, 16, took extra classes this past school year, so he will be able to come back and graduate with the rest of his high school class in May 2016.

By that time he will have a year of college under his belt thanks to a program at the University of Iowa that enrolls about 10 high-ability students who have completed 10th or 11th grade each year.

Babcock was in the Talented and Gifted program at Charles City High School.

He said he wanted to go to college early because high school classes weren't challenging enough for him.

"High school just seemed like a waste of time anymore," he said.

Babcock learned about the possibility of early college entry when he started getting materials in the mail from colleges on the East Coast.

He approached Pat Rottinghaus, professional school counselor at Charles City High School, about going to college early.

She told him he didn't have to go to the East Coast to do that because there's an early entry program at the University of Iowa.

This program used to be administered by the National Academy of Arts, Sciences, and Engineering, but it is now transitioning into a new STEM Academy.

Rottinghaus said this is a perfect fit for Babcock, who plans to major in mechanical engineering.

Students in the STEM Academy all live together in the same residence hall, supported by meeting with professionals at the Belin-Blank Center for Gifted Education next door.

Babcock had to go through the usual University of Iowa application process, with a few additions.

Two mentors had to write essays about him. His mother, Tabitha Bailey, also wrote an essay saying "she is ready to have me shipped out," he said.

In addition, Babcock had to write his own essay explaining how the program will benefit him.

By entering the STEM Academy, Babcock will be able to complete college in three years instead of four if he wants.

Babcock said he became interested in mechanical engineering through the Talented and Gifted program at Charles City High School, where he worked with wind turbines and robots.

He said what he is looking forward to the most about the STEM Academy is "being able to have classes where I actually learn something."

Bailey said she is nervous about her son leaving for college early but she is excited he will have the opportunity.

"At least it will be closer than a couple states away," she said. 

Rottinghaus said she has known Babcock a long time because she also is a counselor at Charles City Middle School.

"He just has a lot of intellectual curiosity," she said.

Babcock is a quiet individual but "still waters run deep."

"He's a thinker," Rottinghaus said, adding he has the maturity and work ethic it takes to enter college early.

"It's just going to be really good for him," she said.