Iowa State University
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News Service

News Service:

Annette Hacker, director,
(515) 294-3720

Office: (515) 294-4777

5-5-08

Contacts:

Mattias Gassman, graduating senior, (515) 232-3615, mattias@iastate.edu

Philip Gassman, Center for Agricultural and Rural Development, (515) 294-6313, pwgassma@iastate.edu

Teddi Barron, News Service, (515) 294-4778, tbarron@iastate.edu

Mattias Gassman

Mattias Gassman, 18, graduates Saturday from Iowa State with two degrees. He aced his first college class, Latin 101, when he was 11. (Downloadable photo by Bob Elbert.)

Iowa State University student graduates at 18

AMES, Iowa -- In the span of one week, Mattias Gassman is graduating from high school and college.

The 18-year-old from Ames participated May 3 in the local home-school commencement. On May 10, he graduates summa cum laude from Iowa State with two bachelor degrees (B.S. and B.A.), three majors (biophysics, German and classical studies) and one minor (history). He's earned 232.5 credits, nearly twice the number needed to graduate.

But it's all par for the course for Gassman, whose educational career has been anything but commonplace.

As a fifth grader, he took college entrance exams and scored high enough on the SAT to earn a scholarship for a three-credit college class. He enrolled in Latin 101, earning an 'A' in his first college class at age 11.

At 14, he won the Iowa Geographic Bee and made it into the fifth round of the National Spelling Bee. In the fall, he entered Iowa State with a full scholarship. By that time, Gassman had earned so many college credits--mostly by completing six semesters of Latin and Greek as a special student, and by receiving 21 test-out credits--that he was classified as a senior in his second semester. So when the biochemistry, biophysics and molecular biology department named Gassman their top senior of 2005, he was barely 15. And that was just the first of many academic honors and awards.

Gassman is the son of Brigitte and Philip Gassman, an ISU assistant scientist (who earns his Ph.D. degree May 9 in environmental science).

For Brigitte, what's most amazing is the fact that her extremely gifted son was born 11 weeks prematurely.

"For me that's part of the story," she said. "This is a child who was born at 29 weeks. We weren't sure until he was 2 or 3 that his development would be normal."

By the time their son was 5, the Gassmans had an inkling that their child, in fact, had "strong intellectual abilities," she said.

At 6, he was reading adult-level encyclopedias on animals and anything else he could get his hands on.

Gassman was home schooled by his mother, a German who came from a family of educators.

"Home schooling Mattias was sometimes more in the 'unschooling' approach," she said. "He was very self directed. He might spend several weeks studying geography, then a period of time immersed in another subject.

"We only made him do math and piano for the discipline of doing something regularly," she said.

When Gassman entered Iowa State at 14, his career path was unclear. With his parents' guidance, he chose to study disciplines that provided strong backgrounds in the natural sciences and the classics. He also continued playing piano, remained active in his church youth group and the Boy Scouts (he recently became an Eagle Scout), and participated in study abroad courses in the Ukraine and Germany.

Four years later, it's clear that Gassman prefers reading Greek and Latin to working in a research laboratory. There's a "sizeable possibility" that he will get his Ph.D. and teach, he said.

In the fall, he will enter graduate school at the University of Minnesota in classics.

"I want to focus on reading the church fathers because I think it's important," said Gassman, who considers theology a favorite pursuit.

His honors project, "Sola Fide: A Dialogue," was a debate between Martin Luther, C.S. Lewis and others about "faith and the nature of Christian life and reason."

"At Minnesota, I'll have the option of studying Hebrew or Coptic (an Egyptian liturgical language)," he said. "And there is at least one faculty member who studies the history and theology of the church fathers, which I'd like to study."

The Gassmans say they will experience the same concerns of every parent whose child leaves home for school. The only difference is that their 18-year-old is headed to graduate school.

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Gassman family

Brigitte and Philip Gassman with their son Mattias, 18. This weekend, Mattias receives two bachelor degrees and Philip earns his Ph.D. (Downloadable photo by Bob Elbert.)

Quick look

Mattias Gassman, an 18-year-old from Ames, is graduating summa cum laude from Iowa State Saturday, just one week after his home-school commencement. Gassman graduates with two bachelor degrees (B.S. and B.A.), three majors (biophysics, German and classical studies) and one minor (history). He earned 232.5 credits, nearly twice the number needed to graduate. He took his first college class at 11 and enrolled full-time at 14. He will continue his studies at the University of Minnesota.

Quote

This is a child who was born at 29 weeks. We weren't sure until he was 2 or 3 that his development would be normal."

Brigitte Gassman, whose son Mattias graduates from ISU at 18