Corinne Weeks has a lot to celebrate.
This month, the college senior is presenting a poster at the American Chemical Society national conference in New Orleans. She’s gearing up for graduation in May and has her pick among nine prestigious graduate PhD programs across the country — including those at several Ivy League institutions — all of which have offered her full tuition and living expenses.
Corinne should be popping the cork on a nice bottle of champagne. But Corinne isn’t quite old enough to drink alcohol. Or celebrate at a nightclub with her girlfriends (if that were her thing). Corinne isn’t even old enough to vote.
At just 17 years old, Corinne is one of Mary Baldwin University’s “PEGs,” or students in the Program for the Exceptionally Gifted, which welcomes girls as young as 13 to skip all or part of high school to live and study on the university’s campus, located in the heart of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. She came to MBU at 15 and will earn her degree in applied mathematics, with dual minors in chemistry and physics.
Right now, Stanford, Princeton, Cornell, Michigan State, Purdue, and Case Western Reserve universities and the universities of Illinois, Texas, and Virginia are all offering Corinne a chance to continue her studies, tuition free. She’s planning to make her decision by mid-April.
“I’m so excited,” Corinne said of the educational opportunities that have opened up for her. In her final semester at MBU, Corinne is studying the effects of bisphenol S, or BPS, in plastics. Her senior thesis, required of every student at MBU, will explore how the diffusion equation is used in chemical engineering.
Mom Terri Weeks heard about MBU’s gifted education program when Corinne was in 8th grade and not quite ready to skip all of high school. But by 10th grade, Corinne said, she “wasn’t getting anything out of high school anymore. So I figured that if I started college through PEG, I could start working toward my degree instead of having to stay in high school for two more years.”
“We have been very pleased with PEG,” said Terri Weeks. “It has allowed our daughters to start college when they were ready, with safeguards that allow my husband and me to sleep at night. PEG isn’t for everyone, but it is a wonderful opportunity for the right students. Corinne has had some amazing opportunities that have helped prepare her for graduate school. Her professors and fellow PEGs have encouraged her to truly challenge herself. [Our other daughter] Camille is finishing her first year at Mary Baldwin and plans to teach mathematics after earning a master’s degree. We are also very excited about the opportunities that Mary Baldwin offers for future educators.”
Corinne enjoyed high school, but looked forward to being in an environment with other gifted students her age. On a visit as a prospective student, she realized that she would like the social scene at MBU as well — making friends with other academically strong students, but not getting lost at a huge university. Her little sister Camille is now also a freshman PEG at MBU. The two girls often can be seen grabbing a hot bowl of pho or going to church together just a couple of blocks away in downtown Staunton.
With fewer than 500 students living on campus, MBU also offered Corinne plenty of leadership opportunities that weren’t really an option at her Cincinnati-area high school of more than 2,000 students. Corinne is president of the Math Club; she served as co-president of the PEG residence hall; and this semester, she’s on the MBU Honor Council, part of the Student Government Association.
“It’s been really easy for me to feel comfortable in leadership positions while I’ve been here, and I’ve also improved my public speaking skills,” she said.
And while at MBU, Corinne has enjoyed outings tailored just for PEG students — her favorites include traveling to theme parks like Busch Gardens. There are also spa nights, movie screenings, and slumber parties. PEG students often say that the experience feels more like a boarding school with college-level coursework and opportunities like study abroad, athletics, and service learning. Students live and learn in a special, all-female residence hall just for PEGs. And they enjoy the same personal attention from academic advisors and professors as traditional MBU students. Girls have thrived, both academically and socially, in PEG since it was created in 1985.
“Corinne is a clear example of what is possible when disciplined work ethic conflates with real talent,” said MBU Associate Professor of Math John Ong. “She listens humbly as a student but then grows her own voice through independent choices. I loved being her advisor. Besides being a stellar scholar and a leader, she is a decent human being and personifies what is best and fulfilling about our PEG program.”
Photo caption: MBU Provost Ty Buckman congratulates Corinne Weeks on her impressive academic achievement.