Sydney Guthrie, 17, to Graduate from NOVA in May, More Than a Year Before High School Graduation

April 14, 2023

As we continue to celebrate Community College Month, meet Sydney Guthrie, a dual-enrollment student at NOVA. She graduates in May with an associate degree in science and a 4.0 GPA. A month later, she will finish her junior year at James Madison High School in Vienna, Va. Sydney did not plan on attending high school and college simultaneously, but the catalyst was her deep desire to gain more and more knowledge about the medical field.

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This all started when Sydney took an online CPR and first aid class as part of a 9th-grade Physical Education requirement. This seemingly insignificant decision changed her world!

It broadened her love for all things medical, almost as if a spigot had been opened, and she could not get enough. That's when she found NOVA’s Dual Enrollment Program. What started with Sydney taking a few medical-related classes at NOVA snowballed into getting her associates at 17. She is one of the youngest Fairfax County Public School students to get her associates while still in high school. 

Sydney's grandparents were a big part of her life. They lived in the same house with her and her mother, father and brother. Her grandfather, a pediatrician, was a major influence on her, and she adored him. At a young age, Sydney would accompany him to his office for Take Your Child to Work Day, and the seed was planted.

Following her graduation from NOVA in May, Sydney plans to continue taking classes at NOVA and is already enrolled in several courses for this summer and fall. Her mother, Keira Guthrie, is very proud of her daughter's accomplishments. She said this is not just about Sydney graduating, "Her goal was to grow and learn and to stretch herself by exploring a wide variety of NOVA courses."

In 2022, Sydney won NOVA's SEAL (Service, Engagement, Academics, and Leadership) Award, the most prestigious college-wide student award. In the upcoming 2023-2024 school year, Sydney will be part of student government after recently being elected as a senator. 

What will you be thinking when you walk across the graduation stage in May?
Honestly, it hasn't really hit me yet. I’m guessing I will be thinking that I don't know how I did this. It's been a lot of work, time and effort. As the date approaches, however, I see that, course by course, year by year, it is all coming together now.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background
One of the things I am most dedicated to and passionate about is the medical field. Since I was four or five, I have wanted to be a doctor like my Papa [Richard H. Schwartz, M.D.]. 

In addition to my academic life, I am a coach for two local swim teams for ages 5-9. I also work part-time as an assistant at Advanced Pediatrics, which used to be my grandfather’s practice. My grandfather touched so many lives; he was kind and invested in his patients. He made people feel loved, and he is my biggest role model, as I want to follow in his footsteps. 

What brought you to NOVA?
The summer before 9th grade, I took an eight-hour virtual class on CPR, AED and first aid. Since the class was comprised of separate videos, I knew before I started I could do it at my leisure. I thought to myself, “Oh my goodness! This is going to be horrible - eight hours!” I sat down on the couch and watched the entire program in one sitting. When I finished it, I watched it again. The first time was because I had to; the second time was because I wanted to. I loved it and wanted to know more medical-related topics.

When it ended, I told my mother I was interested in taking other health-related classes. This was at the beginning of the pandemic, so I was not sure anything would be available for me. My searches directed me to NOVA. At this point, it was the late spring of 2020. I was 14 and had not even started high school yet, but I applied, and NOVA accepted me. A month later, I enrolled in two health-related classes, both of which I completed a month before I began 9th grade.

Throughout my freshman year of high school, I continued taking classes at NOVA, in addition to a full load at James Madison High School. After I finished many of NOVA’s health-related courses, my college counselor suggested I declare a major and continue taking courses beyond the medical ones and I agreed to try it.

It’s hard to believe but my NOVA graduation will take place on May 15, which is a month before I finish my junior year of high school and about thirteen months before my high school graduation.

What are you studying at NOVA?  
I only needed three classes this semester to graduate, but I took a fourth one because I enjoy NOVA's academic challenges. This spring semester, I am currently taking four NOVA classes: Information Technology 152, History 122, Chemistry 101, and ASL 102.

Tell Us About Your Experience at NOVA, i.e., professors you’ve liked and friends you’ve met.
I have had many supportive professors who have helped me achieve my numerous goals at NOVA. However, I think only a few knew that I am still in high school.

Professor Toni Conklin, my English professor, has been a constant source of support throughout my time here. It is evident she loves her students and loves teaching. It was truly an honor to be in her classes. I’m also very grateful to Professor David Falkenstein, who has since retired from NOVA. I was fortunate to have him as my professor for my Intro to Medical Terminology, Medical Terminology and Pharmacology classes. He gave me the confidence to believe that, despite my age, continuing my education at NOVA was possible.

What would you tell a student coming to NOVA?  
Take advantage of your professors' office hours and communicate with your professors. Get out of your own way and ask for help when you need it. I know the thought of interacting with professors can be overwhelming, but they are truly there to support and help us. Also, get in touch with other students in your classes.  From this, you will learn about study tips and different perspectives. Finally, keep track of due dates and, when possible, work ahead. Although it can be easier said than done, these things help reduce stress and make the courses easier to manage.

Where do you see yourself after NOVA or what career pursuits are you exploring?  
In the short term, I will finish my senior year of high school and begin a four-year college in the fall of 2024. In the long term, I would like to work in the medical field and plan on becoming a pediatrician like my grandfather. I know it's cliché, but I truly want to make a difference in people's lives. I think my grandparents are extremely proud of me. I know they are looking down, just beaming with pride, and it makes me feel like I'm doing something right in my life.

Topics: featured article, student success