Ryan Bhojwani is a strapping student who finished his associate degree in Science from Northern Virginia Community College in August 2017—with straight A’s at that. No small feat.
A pretty typical college student, what makes Ryan stand out is that he has gone on to further his education as a freshman at Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington, Va. At only fourteen, Ryan received an award as one of the top Chemistry students at NOVA, and he graduated with nearly 70 credits—and a 4.0 GPA—in the Summer of 2017.
“Ryan's a smart kid, to the point that he skipped second grade. But he has had difficulty with verbal communication,” said his dad, Roger. The senior Bhojwani is a medical doctor and professor at GW’s Medical School in Washington, D.C. “We noticed it would take a long time for Ryan to express his thoughts. He tested at a very high level in math, verbal and reasoning skills, but he has an issue with auditory processing speed. While he earned high marks in middle school, he was often on the periphery of conversations as people would talk and then move to other topics before he could process and respond to what was just said. His thinking is very advanced, but when he speaks his points are often basic and do not reflect the depth of his thoughts,” Bhojwani said.
In his elementary and middle schools, Ryan was a quiet student and never volunteered his ideas, even when they were particularly insightful. As a result, even his teachers were not fully aware of his ability. During a parent-teacher conference in middle school, one teacher would conduct the conference for all of a student’s classes. His teacher looked at his file and said to his parents, "Wow! Ryan has Straight A’s! I wouldn’t have guessed that!"
In January 2016, when snow blanketed the D.C. region, Ryan and his brother Jonathan, then 13 and 10, showed great interest in knowing why the chemical treatments on the roads caused the snow to melt. They asked their dad, and he spent considerable time during that snow break teaching them Chemistry. Bhojwani began to realize his oldest had a particular aptitude for science and chemistry.
Ryan’s parents decided to homeschool him during the year before high school since he was one of the younger students in his grade. They hoped the year at home would allow his communication skills to develop.
So, in the summer of 2016, 13-year-old Ryan Bhojwani began his home school curriculum by taking classes at NOVA. With the help of Katie Aimone, his advisor through NOVA’s online learning program, the Extended Learning Institute or ELI, Ryan thrived. He quickly realized he was a visual learner and loved learning at his own pace. So he signed up for more classes and more.
Over the course of three semesters, Ryan took 60 credits and received straight A's. Just one summer after he began, he finished the final classes needed for his associate degree. In his last semester, he took Geology and its lab; History of Western Civilization II and Physical Education, because it’s required for the degree, and because he has a tremendous love of baseball. Ryan says one of his favorite things about the year at home was participating in Perfect Performance, an elite training program for middle school-aged kids through professional athletes and run by former professional athletes. There, he built his speed, strength and baseball skills to prepare himself for high school baseball, which he plans to play at Bishop O’Connell.
“Ryan is truly an outstanding young man with extraordinary zest for learning and a highly-disciplined curiosity about the ‘how, why and what of the world,’" said Reva Savkar, recently-retired chair of science seminars in chemistry at NOVA. “He embodies and exemplifies the best of being a student and a learner. My courses are designed to stimulate and foster critical thinking and analytical skills, and Ryan is one the best students I have had the privilege of guiding in more than three decades of teaching!”
For his part, Ryan says he loved his classes through the Extended Learning Institute. “ELI is the best way to learn for me,” he says. “I get to go at my own speed. If I am confused, they have so many resources for me to look up. I learned better this way than in all my time in class.”
Ryan continued, “This last year was hard at times but amazing! It was fun. I liked it much more than going to school, and I got much more out of it.”
After high school, Ryan looks forward to college. He would love to go the Naval or Air Force Academy, Vanderbilt (he was born at the Vanderbilt University hospital when his dad was a resident!) or the University of Virginia.
Looking back, their decision to pull their son out of public school during middle school was something Roger and Brandi Bhojwani did hoping to let him develop, since he was young for his grade. But it turned into something so much greater than they could have ever dreamed.
"I cannot thank NOVA enough for what they've done for Ryan! Before, he was somewhat lacking in confidence. Now, he's a smart, strong, and confident kid,” says his dad. "This is life changing! If we had not gone this route, he may have been unhappy and felt lost in high school, with no one willing to take the time to listen to his ideas, and more importantly, with Ryan unwilling to speak up, potentially leading to low self-esteem or even depression. Now, he is going forward with confidence knowing that he has the knowledge and ability to contribute to discussions; that what he has to say is valuable. The difference in his level of self-confidence after his experience at NOVA is like night and day. He’s the same smart kid, but now he’s also a confident kid that is on a path to make a difference in the world.”
"I could not be a bigger fan of NOVA for what they have done for our child," Bhojwani said. “Really, what we want to do is to inspire other parents with kids that may learn or communicate differently, which can affect their academic performance or social interactions and their self-esteem. This includes kids who are bright but have issues with processing speed, communication delays, are young or immature for their grade or have other issues that make it difficult for them to have the confidence to speak their minds. These kids might benefit from a year of nurturing and maturing at home with their parents and taking classes through NOVA’s Extended Learning Institute. I know Ryan certainly has benefitted, and we are so thankful to NOVA for the opportunity.”
Northern Virginia Community College is the largest institution of higher education in the Commonwealth of Virginia and one of America's largest community colleges. NOVA enrolls more than 75,000 students at its six campuses in Alexandria, Annandale, Loudoun, Manassas, Springfield and Woodbridge, and through the Extended Learning Institute. For more information about NOVA and its programs or services, call 703-323-3000 or visit the College's Web site, www.nvcc.edu.