By Teresa Ristow
for the Mail Tribune
Like most students preparing to graduate in a few weeks from Southern Oregon University, Madeline Goodwin is excited to put on her cap and gown and receive her diploma.
Unlike most college seniors, Goodwin is only 17 years old.
The youngest SOU graduate ever, Goodwin was homeschooled and able to blaze through college by starting classes as an early entry high school student just as she turned 14.
"The first couple of years I stood out like a sore thumb," said Goodwin. "There were a lot of students old enough to be my parent or grandparent."
Goodwin first took classes under the early entry program, which allows high school students to take college courses to supplement their regular schooling. When SOU realized how far along Goodwin was, it allowed her to keep going as a college student, even though she'd never taken the SATs, formally graduated from high school or even received a GED.
"We gave (SOU) her accurate birthday, and no one paid much attention," said Corin Goodwin, Madeline's mom.
Goodwin received good grades and was clearly on track to graduation when she was accepted as a regular student, her mom said.
Corin Goodwin helped her daughter transition into SOU by commuting with her from Grants Pass for classes and study sessions. At oher times Goodwin would carpool with her stepfather, who was also taking classes at the university.
In addition to the long drive, Goodwin also had to overcome a range of disabilities, from being on the autism spectrum to having sensory and auditory difficulties.
"I have trouble with sensory issues and trouble articulating at times," said Goodwin.
She relied on SOU's disability resources department to help with test-taking, and brought her mom, who is the director of a homeschooling resource organization called the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum, to meetings with professors.
Goodwin began to take introductory science classes and bonded with Narcisa Pricope, an assistant professor at SOU from fall 2010 until last spring.
"These were the classes where I first fell in love with natural sciences," said Goodwin, who is majoring in environmental studies with a minor in biology.
She took a particular interest in climate change and spent last year and this year volunteering with the Ecology Center of the Siskiyous, acting as their social media manager for six months.
Goodwin said she spent much of her time on campus in the science building.
"The ES department -- they've been my favorite part of the campus," she said.
She has also volunteered in the community to spread information about climate change, working with Southern Oregon Climate Action Now and giving presentations on climate change to students at Grants Pass High School.
Goodwin said was surprised to hear that students felt they had little impact on climate change, or to hear female students say that science wasn't for girls.
"Girls can totally do science," said Goodwin, who will head to Evergreen State College in Washington this fall to pursue a graduate degree in environmental studies.
Her family, which includes her mom, stepfather and a 14-year-old brother who began taking classes at SOU this year, will move to Washington with Goodwin.
After five years in the Rogue Valley, Goodwin said she is ready to move on.
"It's going to signify the end of a major part of my life," she said. "This is where I've done most of my growing up."
Teresa Ristow is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.