"I always dreamed of being an engineer because throughout my life I liked the building," the youngster explained.
A 12-year-old whiz kid from Arizona is now preparing to attend college at Arizona State University. While that in itself is quite a feat for someone her age, young Alena Wicker has her eyes set on achieving her post-college dream: working for NASA. Speaking to 11Alive, the pre-teen makes it sound easy. "I just had a goal I wanted to get to," she explained. "I always dreamed of being an engineer because throughout my life I liked the building." Alena revealed that she found her passion while playing with LEGOS. "I'm kind of a nerd for the NASA-sized Legos," she said.
Alena's mother, Daphne McQuarter, says that her daughter was born gifted. "At 4 years old, she said, 'Mommy, I'm going to work for NASA, and I'm going to go up there.' She would point to the stars," McQuarter recounted. "She just had a gift for numbers and Legos and science, so I started nurturing that gift." According to KPNX, Alena graduated from high school this year after acing all her homeschool classes quickly and is due to start classes at ASU in the summer. True to her habit of exceeding expectations, she will be double majoring in astronomical and planetary science and chemistry.
If the next four years go well, Alena will be done with college at 16 and head to NASA that same year. Her goal is to build rovers, like the one that landed on Mars on 18 February 2021 for the Perseverance mission. "I'll be driving in one of those future space mobiles by the time that I graduate college," she said. "I'm just planning it all as I go. It doesn't matter what your age or what you're planning to do. Go for it, dream, then accomplish it." Alena is also working on building her passion online and currently has a podcast in the works.
According to BBC, the current record for the youngest person ever to graduate college is held by Michael Kearney. Home-schooled by his parents, Kearney started to master the English language before he could even walk and fast-tracked through high school and college. In 1992, at the age of eight, he enrolled at the University of South Alabama and walked out with a Bachelor's degree in anthropology two years later. Since entering the Guinness Book of World Records at the age of 10 as the youngest ever university graduate, Kearney's record has remained unsurpassed to this day.
#FunFact Michael Kearney is listed in the Guinness Book as the world's youngest university graduate at the age of ten! #CollegeGraduate pic.twitter.com/ax2Vxa71q2— Lakewood University (@Lakewood_U) May 14, 2019
Laurent Simons, a nine-year-old Belgian whizz-kid, came quite close to snagging the record a few years ago. He first became the center of media attention in 2018, when — at the age of eight — he graduated from secondary school alongside 18-year-olds. Laurent, who is said to have an IQ of 145, was then on track to complete a three-year course for a degree in electrical engineering at the University of Eindhoven in the Netherland before his 10th birthday in December 2019. Although he aimed to set a record as the first university graduate under 10, his hopes came crashing down at the last moment when the university said that it would not be feasible for Laurent to complete the course before he turned 10.
Laurent, 9, made headlines when news emerged that he was due to finish his studies in electrical engineering at the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands. Now, a dispute between TUE and his family has seen Laurent terminate his studies. https://t.co/Lh4vKucqY7— CNN (@CNN) December 10, 2019
Although the university offered Laurent a mid-2020 graduation date instead, his parents, Alexander and Lydia, refused the offer and immediately removed him from the course. They said at the time that their son would continue his studies at a university in the US instead. In its defense, the university explained that Laurent's academic development would suffer if he were to rush the course. The university also cautioned against placing "excessive pressure on this nine-year-old student" who, it said, had "unprecedented talent."