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Twenty-year old NMSU student to graduate after three years

After only three years of studying electrical engineering at New Mexico State University, 20-year-old Ryan Christopher will receive his bachelor's degree during the university's Saturday, May 15, morning commencement.

Twenty-year old NMSU student Ryan Christopher will graduate during the university's May 15 morning commencement ceremony. (NMSU photo by Greg Mays)

Christopher, an Albuquerque native, was home schooled and did not attend public school until he arrived at NMSU in fall 2001. He began attending the Albuquerque Technical Vocational Institute (TVI) community college the week of his 16th birthday and took his General Educational Development (GED) Test when he was 17 years old.

"Every college I applied to had trouble dealing with me not having grades," he said. "I applied to Rice and Stanford. I felt very embarrassed submitting GED scores to Rice."

Christopher said choosing NMSU worked out best for him because the university was willing to work with him despite his lack of high school grades. The university even awarded him a President's Associates Honors Scholarship, which is based on ACT scores and is the highest scholarship that is available to incoming freshman.

Christopher saved his money over the years to purchase his own home, which he has lived in since he was 19 years old. His father co-signed for the house and Christopher rents out some of the other rooms in the house to roommates.

"My dad wouldn't let me buy the whole house myself, so I own 49 percent of it," he said. "He sees it as an investment."

He said his parents, Melvin and Rejina Christopher of Sandia Park, decided on home school because they wanted him to be enrolled in a school that had a good academic program without the distraction of a negative environment.

"I would have enjoyed having that kind of social interaction," he said. "But it worked out best this way."

While most of the subjects were selected by his parents, Christopher was able to select some subjects he wanted to study, including physics and mathematics. He would request certain books which he would read, complete homework assignments and be tested on.

"Largely, my mom and dad taught me. I also taught myself a lot," he said.

Christopher taught some subjects to his younger siblings Grant and Lindsey, who are only a few years younger than he is.

"I love teaching. I've been teaching for a long time," he said.

Even though Christopher was home schooled, he said his father pointed him toward sports and extracurricular activities. He is a snowboard instructor at Ski Apache in Ruidoso and also enjoys skiing and rock climbing.

Christopher has also done volunteer work for Congresswoman Heather Wilson and participated in an outreach program at the Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM). He has also been a president and member of several technical clubs and organizations on campus, including the student chapter of Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the Presidential Ambassadors, a group of students who represent the NMSU student body at various university functions.

While it takes most students majoring in engineering fields five years to graduate, Christopher will graduate after only three years at the university. One of the reasons he is graduating in six semesters is because he took, on average, 19 credit hours a semester.

"I need a challenge," he said. "If I take fewer classes, I don't do as well."

He also received credit for work he did at home school and TVI. Because of the amount of math he had already studied, Christopher was given credit for the entire calculus sequence required of engineering majors.

Christopher already has his name on one conference paper and will be the lead author of another, which he will present at the annual IEEE Antennas and Propagation Society conference in Monterey, Calif., in June.

His first paper dealt with ways to illuminate and identify objects hidden in opaque materials, such as clouds and water. His new paper addresses shrinking the size of antennas while optimizing their performance. Christopher's fields of interest are antennas, electromagnetics, array theory and radio frequency design.

Graduating from NMSU is kind of a family tradition for Christopher; his father and grandfather both graduated from NMSU. After his own graduation, Christopher plans to move on to graduate school to earn his master's and doctoral degrees.

He is looking at NMSU, the University of Illinois and Ohio State University as institutions he would like to attend to continue his studies. While it takes most graduate students two years to earn their master's degrees, Christopher plans to earn his in just half that time.

Christopher is one of 130 students selected nationwide to receive the National Science Foundation's Bridge to the Doctorate Fellowship, which are designed to encourage highly qualified minority graduate students to enter graduate school with the ultimate goal of pursuing and obtaining a Ph.D. degree.

When Christopher earns his doctorate, he will be the third person in his family to do so. His great-grandfather and two of his uncles also have doctorates.

"There is just more flexibility for a Ph.D.," he said.