Closing in on mid-term exams, students at Maryland's colleges and universities have meshed into the rhythm of academic life. With enrollment statistics topping 254,000 students this fall, this year's collegians are a diverse group.
Here are a few of their stories.
THE PRECOCIOUS KID
Alex Saeed is restless and always fidgets in his chair. His speech pattern is rapid and he is the kind of student who can calculate mathematical problems in his head on command.
He is also 11 years old.
One of the youngest students at Johns Hopkins University this fall, Saeed attends junior high in Rockville during the day where he toils in physical education class, home economics, English and world studies.
Then he trades in his Ninja Turtles and becomes Joe College.
Dressed in a new T-shirt with the Hopkins emblem, Saeed said he likes college much better than grade school.
"It's great! It's fun because I'm going to graduate college before I learn to drive," Saeed says. "In college, you have a lot of freedom. In high school, you have to listen to the teacher."
Saeed's father, Alexander, is an academic version of the stage mother. As his son speaks, Mr. Saeed looks through a box of books he has used as parental reference guides and produces a worn copy of "How to Raise a Human Being."
"It is a humanities approach to raising a child," Mr. Saeed says, adding that before his 20th birthday his son could command a salary comparable to his as a biochemist for Mobil Corp.
Being a brain child has been easy so far. He started reading at age 2 and then moved on to memorizing bedtime stories and working complicated addition and division problems presented by his father. For fun, he plays the flute and Nintendo.
At age 10, Alex was tutoring his fellow students on the school computer and recently, while ordering chicken nuggets at a Hardees Restaurant, Alex was asked by the high school-age counter clerk if he would take the Scholastic Aptitude Test for him.
His latest goal is to try to figure out how to measure the density of unknown solids to liquids in his Hopkins chemistry class.
"I want to be a scientist," he says, "I want to try to discover the origin of life and to discover something that makes people live forever."
Ruth Sneider looks you in the eye when she says, "Youth is not a time of life, it's a state of mind."
The 89-year-old matriarch of the Loyola College campus has been on the stump delivering this message to senior citizens throughout the state for quite some time.
When she's not speaking, she is sitting at her dining room table studying environmental business law books that rest on a delicate lace tablecloth. She's working toward her third master's certificate from the private Jesuit school on North Charles Street, where she has been attending classes since the fall of 1978. She already has earned two 18-credit masters certificates in psychology.
Sneider is so beloved by the Loyola administrators that she has never paid a tuition bill, because grants from Loyola have covered all her educational costs. She has numerous gubernatorial citations decorating her living room wall and appears monthly on a cable television show.
"When I retire, I'd like to counsel the elderly about their rights," she says.
A former clerk at a city police district, Sneider said she was shocked when she was asked to retire at age 70 in 1972. She contacted Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-3rd, and the two worked to institute anti-age discrimination legislation. But the discrimination continues, she maintains.
"There's no age discrimination, dear," Sneider explains. "But when you're older they give you the stink-o jobs. My 70s and 80s have been happier than any time in my life.
"School has given me something to live for. I'm terribly flattered that they admitted me to this school. I'm always the oldest one but I think that others should go to school, too. The old saying, 'If you don't use it, you'll lose it' -- that's true."
Sneider has earned a 3.7 average and the respect and admiration of her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She recently transferred from the competitive master's in psychology program into environmental business because she couldn't pass the statistics course.
"Mathematics has always been the bane of my existence," she admits. "But I'm a rebel. I need 20 courses to get my degree. I don't know if I'm going to live long enough to finish, but I hope so."
THE TWO REDHEADS
Angela and Tracy Beales resemble The Judds, but this mother and daughter team share study halls instead of country-western ballads.
The two redheads are easily recognized at Villa Julie College, kissing goodbye before class and car pooling to campus from their Catonsville home. They lend each other support over lunch and bake their teachers cheesecakes and cookies.
For both, the road to college had a few detours.