by Kate Croxton

Most high school students receive their diploma over four years while many college students can wait as long as eight years for their degree. In the case of Ryanne Popken, an 18-year-old student from Warner Robins, Georgia, she broke all standard conventions and this Spring will have collected both her high school diploma and college degree in only three years, two of them spent in high school.

Former Academy Student Ahead of the GameRyanne joined the Advanced Academy, an early entrance college program for high school students, at the University of West Georgia (UWG) in 2013. She completed the Academy and earned her high school diploma in 2015. This was not the end of the road for her, though. She continued to be a student at UWG and will graduate in the spring of 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in political science.

“Once I get my degree, I want to go to law school,” said Ryanne. “I plan to work in human rights advocacy works. I’m really hoping to go to Emory and then get my Juris doctor (J.D.) degree.”

Ryanne was not only a student working on her degree. She was also the president of the Model U.N. Association at UWG, a member of the UWG Pre-Law Society, and a part of the UWG Public Debate Team. She also participated in Take Back the Night and the Vagina Monologues.

While being both a student and a member of the UWG community, Ryanne faced some hardships.

“The hardest things to manage are your social life,” said Ryanne. “You have to balance leaving your high school friends and finding new friends, who sometimes felt apprehensive on your situation. It took some social adjusting and convincing people you’re not some kind of prodigy freak.”

With some help from her academic advisor, Kate Theobald, and the support structure of the Academy, Ryanne overcame her hardships and managed to make all sorts of connections, both in and out of the Academy.

“The support system helped me get through some of the toughest times of my life,” explained Ryanne. “I don’t know who I would be today without them. With the help of Kate, she made sure we covered our high school requirements so we could graduate on time.

“A lot of outside people think it’s cool that I’m going through high school and college so fast,” continued Ryanne. “I surround myself with people who share similar interests.”

One of the main reasons Ryanne decided to stay at UWG instead of transferring was due to her relationship with her professors.

“UWG has amazing professors in the political science department,” said Ryanne. “We would get coffee or lunch at the UCC and just talk. This kind of personal relationship is something you can’t get with professors at larger schools; you’re a number to them. Here, they’re all phenomenal.”

Another motivation for Ryanne to stay at UWG was the presidential scholarship, which made school more affordable.

“The financial aid gave me a catalyst to pursue my dreams and make everything possible for me,” explained Ryanne. “It was the perfect opportunity for me.”

With the idea of graduation looming its head, Ryanne is feeling a mix of emotions on her future.

“I’m excited and terrified,” she said. “I’m really nervous about law school, but I want to get working on my degree. Some of the normal worries, like not finding a job, moving back home, scare me. However, I’m so thankful and thrilled that I have been given this opportunity. I’m more than ready to start a new chapter in my life.”

Despite her roller coaster ride through high school, college and the Academy, Ryanne has some words of advice and encouragement for other Academy students and future students.

“Use the support system UWG provides – the tutoring, the counseling, the career services, the academic services, all of it,” she urged. “They have such a network of support that students don’t use, and it’s all free. I regret not taking more advantage of these support systems. Don’t let pride get in the way. Get help, and there is never shame in asking.

“I want people to know that what I did, anyone can do,” she continued. “I’m not a prodigy. I’m certainly not Einstein. All it takes is motivation and knowing what programs and services are available to you.”

Posted on February 1, 2016