Ryan Ray Nett was taking trigonometry and calculus while most other 12-year-olds were being introduced to long division and geometry. Now 17, Ryan just graduated from college.
Ryan was among the more than 900 students to graduate from Cuesta College on Friday, and he did so with a transfer degree to Cal Poly in physics and computer science, high honors and a nearly perfect 3.99 GPA. He’ll be a 17-year-old Cal Poly junior in September.
Ryan was matter-of-fact when asked how he felt about graduating college so young, simply saying he’s looking forward to “being able to take the higher-level classes.”
Despite such a meteoric academic career, Ryan said he doesn’t have any concrete plans for what he wants to do after Cal Poly. One area where he said he might put his physics and computer science skills to use: quantum computing, a revolutionary form of technology that could vastly improve computer-processing speed.
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Ryan’s mother, Jeneale Nett, said she knew even when her son was very young that he was going to be special. Both Ryan and his brother needed speech therapy, she said, “because their brains were working faster than their mouths.”
But it was when Ryan was 10 that his college potential started showing.
He was a home-schooled student, but he was taking math courses through Santa Maria-based Family Partnership Charter School when his teacher, Bill Damery, noticed something unusual in Ryan’s graphing calculator.
“He started writing computer code in it,” Jeneale said.
And it was good. So good that Ryan’s mom said Damery urged her to get her 10-year-old son into college.
“I was like, ‘He’s 10. We’ve got time,’ ” she said laughing.
But two years later, afraid that Damery’s impending retirement would leave her son without a sufficiently challenging teacher, Jeneale took him up on his suggestion and made contact with Cuesta.
Ryan was an amazing young man when I met him in 2012.
Kristen Pimental, Cuesta College’s director of admissions and records
She said Cuesta, at first, was hesitant to enroll such a young student. Ryan had to take a four-hour IQ test, split into two two-hour sections. But while such a test might prove daunting to many, Ryan “enjoyed it thoroughly,” his mother said.
“He was in the genius range,” she added.
Kristen Pimental, Cuesta’s director of admissions and records, said: “Ryan was an amazing young man when I met him in 2012.”
“Ryan was a very bright kid when I was talking to him and asked him why he wanted to take a college course at this young of age,” Pimental said. “I was surprised at his answer: He wanted to challenge himself, and the first class was math.”
Specifically, at 12 years old, Ryan was taking trigonometry.
As for the age difference between himself and his classmates, Ryan said, “I never noticed it that much.”
In part that’s because, as a home-schooled student, Ryan spent most of his time surrounded by adults.
“It didn’t seem that extraordinary to me,” he said. “It’s not something I really think about.”
But while Ryan has few friends his own age and his academic pursuits are a focus, he does have extracurricular interests such as competitive gymnastics and playing cello with the youth symphony. He said he spends his downtime coding and playing EVE Online, an online game where Ryan said he’s made some friends.
In his home on the end of a quiet street in north San Luis Obispo, Ryan has another diversion: fostering cats and kittens.
“It’s very rewarding,” he said.
As a full-fledged Cal Poly student, Ryan said he’s looking forward to the expanded course selection.
“I like the theoretical physics, particle physics,” he said.
He just got a lucky combo (of genes).
Jeneale Nett, Ryan’s mom
One thing Ryan won’t be doing is living on campus. He said he plans to continue living at home while attending university.
“It saves thousands of bucks,” he said.
His mom laughed when asked what her secret was to producing a boy genius. She said it wasn’t music or a special diet when she was pregnant.
“He just got a lucky combo (of genes),” Jeneale said.
Although he’s looking ahead to Cal Poly, both Ryan and his mom said they were grateful for the opportunity provided by Cuesta.
“They’re so helpful, and they want you to succeed,” Jeneale said.
As for other young students considering pursuing college classes, Pimental said there’s a process for that. It begins with her interviewing the student and one parent, “which is required for all sixth- through eighth-graders who want to attend to Cuesta College.”
After that, Pimental’s office reviews such criteria as IQ or other knowledge assessment test results, previous grades or academic record, “consideration of the welfare and safety of the student and other students,” requirement for supervision of the student and “review of the content of the class in terms of sensitivity and possible effects on the student.”
Although that might seem like a lot, Ryan said that shouldn’t deter young prodigies from taking their shot.
“Do it. If you think you can, there’s nothing to be lost by trying.”