A doctorate degree by age eighteen?

11-year-old PSEO student Lucas Kramer plans to graduate with an undergraduate degree in a few years.
11-year-old PSEO student Lucas Kramer shakes hands with University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler Thursday Sept. 22 in Coffman Union.
September 28, 2011

Professor Amanda Long thought Lucas Kramer’s mom was one of her chemistry students when the pair came to office hours.

It’s a common reaction to the 11-year-old student, who attends the University of Minnesota as a PSEO student.

“I was blown away,” said Long, Lucas’s chemistry professor.

It’s an easy mistake to make, since his mom, who makes the one-hour drive to campus with him every day, accompanies him to class.

“I think that speaks volumes for the level of involvement on the parents’ part, simply because they somehow have the ability to be that present in the student’s life,” Long said.

While most kids his age are studying in sixth grade, Lucas is almost finished with high school and spends most of his time on a college campus.

A typical Thursday for Lucas starts with a trip to church before his biology lecture. He hangs out in Coffman Union eating lunch, napping or reading a book he picked up at the library for “fun” — a book on the chemical property called Aromaticity.

He has a material science seminar at 2:15 p.m. and a long wait until his chemistry lab starts in the evening. He’ll walk the Washington Avenue Bridge over to West Bank on his way home with his mom. By the time he is ready for bed, it’s already 11 p.m.

Ahead of the pack

Angela Kramer said her son Lucas hit developmental milestones early.

“He’s always had that drive and excitement to learn things,” she said.

Lucas could identify letters by 7 or 8 months, read three-letter words before age 2 and read college-level books before age 5, she said.

“We just kept going with it and then I knew that he couldn’t go to school,” Angela said.

Lucas, who was homeschooled until age 7, has been ahead of the pack his whole life. He said he only has a couple English courses left to graduate high school, which he hasn’t taken yet so he can continue to enroll PSEO at the University.

Through the Minnesota Virtual Academy, which he has been involved with since he was 8, Lucas has completed classes like Advanced Placement Calculus and Biology. He said he continued with MNVA until he “exhausted all those courses.”

Lucas said he really enjoys science and technology classes.

It’s common for PSEO juniors to have a 13-credit maximum, like Lucas does, said Danielle Tisinger, who works with PSEO in the College of Continuing Education.

“Get your feet wet before you jump in,” Tisinger said.

Lucas plans to major in either chemical engineering or material science after he takes PSEO as far as it can go.

“We don’t really have many plans for the distant future,” Lucas said.

He does, however, want to earn his doctorate — something he could accomplish before his 18th birthday.

“We just take one day at a time,” Angela said. “We always say wherever God opens the door, we don’t know how it’ll work or how things will happen, but He just does.”

Lucas eventually wants to attend the St. Paul Seminary at the University of St. Thomas once he’s old enough to study to become a priest.

“It’s such a great vocation — you can help and serve so many others,” Lucas said.

While he isn’t involved with any on-campus activities yet, Lucas said he is heavily involved in his church through activities like Bible study and volunteering. He often hangs out with the children who are also homeschooled there.

Opportunities abound

Being at the University isn’t his first experience in college courses, but it does have the largest classes he’s experienced.

In spring 2011, Lucas took a physics course at Augsburg College.

“It was fun watching him help the 20-year-olds with his modern physics,” Angela said. “That I get a kick out of.”

Lucas is categorized as profoundly gifted by the Davidson Institute, an organization that recognizes gifted people under the age of 18 and sets them up with mentors, provides free educational materials and holds seminars.

Angela said it’s amazing to see the opportunities and experiences her son has had thus far.

Earlier this year, Lucas, who was fascinated by meteorology at the time, was able to visit with Patrick Hammer, a meteorologist at KSTP TV.

While Hammer meets with many kids, he said he remembers Lucas for being so focused.

“I only hope my kids are as driven at 11 as he is,” Hammer said.

Lucas said coming to the University wasn’t a “big shock” to him. The large classes became less daunting after he got to know some of the other students in his classes.

He said he will probably finish PSEO in spring 2013, at which point he said he will continue taking classes at the University for a few years. He said he might take a variety of classes “just to try and find what my interests are really before I start going.” 

 “No point in sitting on the couch eating Cheetos,” Angela said. “You might as well do something good with your time.”

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