In addition to being an accomplished accordian player; participating in Rainbow Girls, a youth club that teaches leadership, confidence and citizenship; and working 10 hours a week at the University of Alaska Southeast, Juneau-Douglas High School sophomore Summer Christiansen, 15, already has plans to graduate a year early from high school as well as receive an associate degree - today.
"It's a lot of work, but I think it's worth it, especially when you have really great teachers who are there willing to help you," Summer said of her dual enrollment. "UAS has the learning center, which is always there when I have problems with my math, and my dad is here as well to help me."
Actually, Summer and her father Jack Christiansen, 42, who started her at UAS when she was in eighth grade, will walk together today at UAS's Commencement ceremonies at the Student Recreation Center - Summer earning an Associate of Arts and Jack receiving a Bachelor of Liberal Arts with a minor in construction technology.
"My wife Kim and I are both very proud of our daughter for her accomplishments," Jack said.
The Christiansens, originally from Nebraska, have moved several times: from Girdwood to Baranof Island, back to Nebraska and finally returning to Juneau in 2005. Most of Summer's schooling has been in public schools, but she took advanced coursework in Nebraska and was home-schooled in fourth grade at a remote salmon hatchery.
"I think one of the things that helped Summer along, too, was the fact that we lived remote for a year and a half," Jack said. "That got her a little accelerated."
When she moved back to Juneau, Summer attended Floyd Dryden Middle School for seventh and eighth grades, taking her first college course in the fall of 2006.
Dr. John D'Armand, adjunct professor of music and coordinator of music at UAS, was the one who allowed Summer to take her first university class, Music Appreciation.
In a Grand Assembly Scholarship letter of reference which D'Armand wrote recently for Summer, he calls her "a conscientious young woman with a pleasantly assertive personality, who, without hesitation, speaks up for that which she believes to be just."
"This admirable characteristic is firmly supported by an unwavering high morality," he writes.
D'Armand also noted Summer's sharp sense of humor as well as sensitive and caring side.
"Her most touching gesture came a couple of years ago on Father's Day," he said. "She called to wish me a happy Father's Day and said that she wanted to be my daughter for that day. I almost cried."
In addition to D'Armand, Summer spoke highly of her math professor Jill Dumesnil and her first communications teacher Jean Richey, who now works at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
"She was a big mentor for me for a long time," Summer said of Richey.
Summer added that one of the greatest college opportunities she's experienced thus far has been a trip to Peru, with UAS professors Claudia Wakefield (Spanish) and Dan Monteith (anthropology), where she took the four-day hike on Inca Trail to Manchu Picchu.
"It was a really great experience," Summer said. "After doing that, I realized that if I put my mind to it, I can basically do anything."
Although the majority of Summer's academic success has come from her own tenacity, the Christiansens both credit the university and high school programs for helping her along.
"UAS has supported her every step," Jack said, "and the HomeBridge program (at the high school) has been very supportive as well."
HomeBridge allows high schoolers to take up to two classes and receive partial funding for tuition to any college. Summer has chosen UAS.
"Given the flux of the downtown high school and the Thunder Mountain High School and some of the uncertainties of the program, it just all seemed like a great fit for her," Jack said of his daughter's choice.
In all, Summer urges her fellow students to look into dual enrollment, especially for getting a head start on college.
"UAS is a small campus, and the teachers there are really amazing, and they'll help you with whatever you need," she said. "You're not just another number there, you're a person - a student."
Summer also feels UAS offers many things JDHS can't, she said.
"And it's really great to get into a system like that and be with such wonderful people," Summer said. "I know the teachers are always there for me, I have a job there and my boss and my co-workers are there for me."
As for future endeavors, Summer is planning on graduating a year early and obtaining her bachelor's degree. She's not sure what degree, but hopes to minor in English.
"I'll be glad to get out of high school so I can focus on college work more," Summer said.
Contact Neighbors editor Kim Andree at 523-2272 or email@example.com.
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