State

Diploma and degree coming for Modesto JC student

A month before he graduates high school, Alex Harris will graduate from Modesto Junior College.

Harris' associate degree -- in university preparation, with an emphasis in chemistry -- helped increase his competitiveness when applying to universities.

It worked. He will attend Stanford University this fall to study chemistry on a full-ride scholarship. He hopes to become a trauma doctor.

"I really enjoyed taking classes at Modesto Junior College. It's definitely worth having the challenges as well as getting that college experience," Harris, 18, said quietly in a matter-of-fact tone.

Harris liked his science classes at MJC, especially learning from instructors with master's and doctoral degrees. His least favorite class was long-distance running, which started at 6:30 a.m.

Dad Kent and mom Laura knew their son had exceptional learning abilities when Harris was in kindergarten. He knew his ABC's and how to count to 100, Kent Harris said.

"Alex was growing up just as learning technology was taking off, in the age of Reader Rabbits. We threw those in front of him. It was like playing video games, but they were academic," Kent Harris said.

When Harris was preparing for his senior year at Oakdale High School, he found that many Advanced Placement classes had been eliminated.

He needed and wanted a challenge, so his parents transferred him to Valley Charter High School in Modesto, where students take high school classes and enroll at MJC. About 80 teens from across the county are enrolled at a high school and MJC.

Harris said his experience at MJC will help him make the transition to university life. He learned the value of office hours, which give students time to come in and ask questions of instructors.

"I definitely made use of office hours. It's an interesting difference between college and high school -- that time is set aside to talk to professors. It's great time for one-on-one," he said.

In addition, he learned about registering, waiting lists for classes with more demand than seats, and the importance of ordering textbooks ahead of time.

Harris said he honed the art of studying for finals. This week, he had tests in chemistry, math and psychology. He'll have more finals at Valley Charter the last week of May and will graduate May 27.

"It's interesting to have both graduations within a month of each other," he said.

Bee staff writer Michelle Hatfield can be reached at mhatfield@modbee.com or 578-2339.

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