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2011 May 30 - 12:00 am

STUDENT SPOTLIGHT: Iowa Grad Earns Both a Diploma and a Degree

WATERLOO, Iowa (AP) — Only one party was planned, even though Danica DeLong graduated twice earlier this month.

She received a diploma May 22 from Dunkerton High School. But first, DeLong received an associate of arts degree May 13 from Hawkeye Community College.

The 18-year-old has been earning the general studies degree from Hawkeye during the past 3 ½ years while simultaneously attending high school. She will graduate in the top 5 percent of her Dunkerton class and earned A’s and B’s at Hawkeye.

DeLong participates in the postsecondary enrollment options program that allows qualified students to take classes at Hawkeye or online if something comparable is not available at their school. Since she was a junior, those were supplemented by concurrent Hawkeye classes offered at her school.

She received college credit for all of the classes and high school credit for many. Under the programs, Dunkerton’s school district picked up most of the cost, with DeLong paying for classes they did not cover.

“It started out as just an opportunity, because my high school pays for them,” she said. State law allows ninth- and 10th-graders to participate in postsecondary enrollment options if they are in the talented and gifted program and the school signs off on the course. She took her first class, introduction to psychology, during spring semester of her freshman year.

“It was just a plan to get ahead on credits and then it turned into a goal to complete it,” said DeLong, something she realized was possible as a sophomore. That puts her in a unique position among high school students who earn college credit at Hawkeye.

“A lot of students that I see coming in usually earn around 15 credit hours,” said Holly Grimm-See, Hawkeye’s associate director of admissions. That’s equivalent to about one semester of college. Some earn as many as 22 or 23 college credits during high school.

To earn her associate degree, DeLong completed 62 credits. “I think it’s amazing,” said Grimm-See, who described the young woman as dedicated and motivated. This the first time in Grimm-See’s decade in the position that she has seen a high school student complete an associate degree.

DeLong credits an interest in becoming a doctor with keeping her motivated to finish two years of college “since it takes such a long time to complete” the medical degree. She will transfer to the University of Iowa as a junior this the fall in pre-med and psychology. After completing her bachelor’s degree, she hopes to be accepted into the university’s medical school.

Eventually, she wants to become a family practitioner or a kidney specialist. The interest developed through her own experience with kidney problems growing up. At age 8, doctors found a blockage in her right kidney, which had stopped functioning. They planned to remove the enlarged kidney, but during the night before surgery it began functioning again.

“We’ve always said in my family it was a little miracle,” DeLong said.

Doctors have also postponed removing it because her left kidney has a birth defect. Their concern is that the other kidney may stop functioning properly without a second one for backup.

Along with her high school and college classes, DeLong has been a four-season athlete throughout high school. She got certified as a nursing assistant two years ago through Hawkeye. In her free time, she volunteers at Allen Hospital and still maintains a social life.

“I’ve learned to be extremely organized,” DeLong said, regularly getting homework assignments done on time or even early. She admits to having considered slowing down the pace “a few times” when the stress of all her commitments got to her. “But then I kind of take a step back and take a look at where I’ve been and how far I’ve come.”

After arriving in Iowa City, she hopes to work and volunteer at the University of Iowa Hospitals while taking classes. DeLong is confident she can handle the work along with her studies.

“I think I’m going to be pretty well prepared for it,” she said.

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