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2002/05/09

Maeghan Kearney Graduates May 11 With Degree In Animal Science by Tom Tozer, The Record, Middle Tennessee State University She was a college dropout at age 11 and a half-perhaps the youngest on record-having enrolled at MTSU at age 10. The university environment proved a bit overwhelming to someone so young who had been home-schooled. With new resolve, however, she returned to campus a year and a half later. Today, Maeghan Kearney, a seasoned 16-year-old, is looking forward to graduating May 11 with a degree in animal science. In 1996, the Kearney family came to Murfreesboro, and son Michael, then age 11, enrolled in graduate school-establishing his fourth Guinness Book of Records notation. Michael received his master's in biochemistry xfrom MTSU at age 14. He was a unique story to be sure, and parents Kevin and Cassidy Kearney worked hard, following the initial media onslaught, to turn their son's mind to his studies. (Michael went on to work on and complete a second master's in computer science at Vanderbilt, which he will receive May 10, the day before Maeghan's graduation.) During her brother's tenure at MTSU, Maeghan remained the shy sister with a warm smile and little to say. After all, Michael had been in the spotlight since he uttered his words at 4 months old. Maeghan-soft-spoken, sweet, and extremely bright in her own right-stayed in the background. Maeghan is still quiet. Her accomplishments, however, shout volumes as to her abilities and persistence. She wants to become a veterinarian, but she is considering first getting her master's in education. "After graduation I'm going to get a job because I need money to pay for vet school, and I don't think my parents should pay for that because they have already paid for my college," Maeghan said. She added that working in a veterinarian's office would combine her need for money with her love for animals-creating the ideal job. Maeghan is usually seen on campus in the company of her mother, who has attended some classes with her and taken notes. Maeghan, like her brother, has dysgraphia, which is the written counterpart of dyslexia. "There aren't enough connections between the hands and the brain, so it gets messed up," she said. "I can't write very well, and sometimes it takes me a long time on tests. If I don't have to write very fast, I write very tiny. When I have to write fast, I can barely read it. Sometimes I can't make it out and have to guess at it. I've always had it." When Maeghan does write in class, she uses a pen with a cushion-like attachment; otherwise, she grips the pen too hard and gets calluses on her fingers. Her love for animals has motivated her to persevere. Not every procedure down on the farm, however, has been easy for her. "I like most animals," she noted. "But I'm sort of intimidated by the larger ones. In one of my ag classes . we had to castrate pigs. I had no problem with that because they didn't seem to mind. But I had a problem with the bulls because they are so large. I could really inject them. I didn't have the strength to get it through their hide." Even though Maeghan has received nearly all A's and B's, she said grades have never concerned her all that much. Moreover, the anticipation of taking a test gives her butterflies. "I put less attention on tests now," she noted. "I tell myself that I don't necessarily have to ace this test-a B is OK. . I don't have to get all A's. I would rather enjoy the class and get C's on the test than get real freaked out all the time and get A's." The young scholar sings the praises of the agribusiness and agriscience department, because she has always felt accepted and she's been able to do "a lot of hands-on stuff" in the swine, beef, and dairy units. "I learned that the pig smell actually sticks to you. You hear that but you really don't really expect it. I have chemistry after that, and this girl will say, 'You're smelling of pig today.' . I have good professors. They are very supportive. I was surprised-it's like, you know, the teachers know my name." Her mother agreed. I am grateful to MTSU because they were willing to take Michael. President Walker and Dean [Donald] Curry took a chance when Michael was 11. They also accepted Maeghan. There was a place for them. I'm thankful for the opportunity," Cassidy Kearney said. "The ag department really has been very supportive. This department is the only place to get hands-on experience. We looked at Vanderbilt. You can get a biology or chemistry degree or go to vet school there, and that's normally how kids would go. But if you really want to be a vet, this is the place that lets you have hands-on." The Kearneys say there are a lot of youngsters like Michael and Maeghan throughout the nation, and most have gone to state colleges because state institutions are more apt to admit them. "For the money, it's better to go to a school like MTSU where at least you see your professors," Cassidy added.

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