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Streetsboro teen sets bar high in quest for multiple college degrees

By Carol Biliczky
Beacon Journal staff writer

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Paisley Stovall, 18, of Streetsboro, at the Student Center on the campus of Kent State University Friday, Dec. 7, 2012 in Kent, Ohio. Stovall will be graduating from Kent State next year with four bachelor's degrees. (Karen Schiely/Akron Beacon Journal)

Most college students find it tough to graduate from college in six years.

Paisley Stovall will finish Kent State next spring with three majors, and possibly four. She is 18.

Stovall, a Streetsboro resident, will dramatically speed up her graduation because she took college courses while in high school and now takes about twice the number of credits as a typical KSU undergraduate.

“Other people are, like, ‘How can she be doing that?’ But I have classes that are going to be easy and I put them with classes that are going to be hard so that my GPA doesn’t go down drastically,” she said.

At a time when the state of Ohio is trying to steer more students into completing college in a timely way, Stovall might be a poster child for ambition. She is among only three students taking 25 credits or more on the Kent campus, which has more than 30,000 students, the university said.

She got her foot in the college door early, collecting 108 credits while at Streetsboro High through the state’s Post-Secondary Education Option, which enables students to take college courses and get credit for them at both the college and high school level.

Statewide, about 16,300 secondary school students took PSEO college courses in 2010-11, shaving the amount of time they must spend in college and the tuition they must pay when they leave high school.

Paisley also has been aggressive about taking courses since enrolling at Kent State full time in fall 2011.

Her interests are so many that she’s pursuing bachelor’s degrees in four majors, racking up another 100 credits toward degrees in instrumental music (the saxophone is her specialty), Pan-African studies, anthropology and political science, with a minor in Japanese.

If all goes well, she will graduate next spring, just a few weeks shy of her 19th birthday.

Stoval’s path is highly unusual, said Charity Snyder, Kent State counseling director.

“The sheer amount of time to be in class and do the work outside of class is challenging,” she said.

Some of Paisley’s credits will count toward more than one degree, so she won’t need 121 credits — the usual number to earn a bachelor’s — for each of her four degrees, Snyder said.

Mom’s encouragement

The brains behind her drive are, at least in part, her mother, Phyllix, a cosmetologist who wants to return to college herself one day to complete her own degree.

Phyllix Stovall encouraged Paisley and her two brothers to take the ACT test as early as the sixth grade. She steered her children into summer school to help them improve in weak areas.

Paisley, clearly gifted, skipped the sixth grade.

Every New Year’s Eve, Phyllix Stovall sat her offspring down with wine glasses filled with sparkling grape juice to outline their goals for the coming year.

Last year, Paisley resolved to get on the dean’s list (she did), go to Japan for her minor (she will over the Christmas holiday on a scholarship) and lose 30 pounds (she lost 15, then gained it back).

By enrolling both Paisley and her younger brother, Onesemah, in PSEO courses, their mother ensured they didn’t have a lot of free time to fritter away. (PSEO wasn’t available when an older son, Daniel, attended Streetsboro High.)

Phyllix Stovall thought it essential that her children’s time was directed into education.

“A lot of times we waste a lot of time doing nothing,” Phyllix Stovall said. “I figure they will have plenty of time to waste when they get away from me.”

Paisley moved to campus after she graduated from high school. She has maintained a 3.0 grade point average — a “B” average — despite her large course load.

In the semester just ended, for example, she took courses in social movements, American government, anthropology, black women, the saxophone and Japanese culture. She joined three university bands, two of which she got credit for.

Those 25 credits are almost twice the 13.5 taken by the typical KSU student.

“I don’t think about it too much,” the dimpled, pert teen said. “Otherwise I’d go crazy.”

She is luckier than many of her peers. By relying on scholarships, loans and her parents’ help in paying for her education, she does not have to hold down a job.

“You just keep going. You don’t look at the costs,” her mother said. “You have to look at the future, even if you have to borrow the money. What other time in your life are you going to get this type of education without responsibility?”

Father also enrolls

Paisley’s father is living proof of that.

A self-employed landscaper, he enrolled at Cuyahoga Community College at his daughter’s urging to pursue an associate’s degree in environmental health and safety and for a certificate in conflict resolution and peace studies — interests he will pursue for bachelor’s degrees at Kent State next year.

Then he will take courses at Kent while his younger son, Obie, a student at Streetsboro High, racks up more PSEO courses.

Paisley should be gone by then. It might go without saying she has a long-term plan in mind.

After she graduates, she wants to work on the Gila River Indian Community in Arizona, where her grandparents live and her father grew up. She plans to get master’s degrees — that’s right, two of them — in political science and anthropology, and eventually a doctorate.

Carol Biliczky can be reached at 330-996-3729 or cbiliczky@thebeaconjournal.com.