Nick Wrobleski hasn’t missed a single day of school since kindergarten, but he’s skipping his entire senior year.
He begins at University of Southern California in the fall. At 16, he will be one of just 18 students in the Resident Honors Program at the University of Southern California. He plans to major in biochemistry and has arranged his schedule in the hope of being involved in cancer research immediately.
“Nick is a uniquely driven student who works hard to make experiences outside of his comfort zone a reality. That’s a very unusual quality in a high school student, as teens usually focus on fitting in with peer groups through conformity,” said Katie Booth, who works with gifted and talented students at Scott County High School, where Nick would have been a senior this fall. “His application to USC’s program was really self-initiated.”
It was so self-initiated that he didn’t clear it with his mother.
“I mentioned it,” Nick said, sitting at the kitchen table with his mom, Millie. “And I said no,” Millie Wrobleski said.
Nick smiled and shrugged.
Nick, who plays French horn in the band and was on the tennis team, has acted on his ideas before. In sixth grade, he created the The Nick in Time Fund in honor of two grandfathers who died of cancer. That fund was highlighted in a story by University of Kentucky media because, even at 11, Nick had a firm life goal: curing cancer.
And getting to that goal quicker is one reason he’s ready to head off to college. “I’ve got 12 years of school left,” said Nick, who wants to earn a doctorate and a medical degree. “I think we need to reinvent how we treat cancer.”
That would mean moving away from chemotherapy to more targeted approaches for individual types of cancer, he said. He is especially interested in pancreatic and ovarian cancers, and other cancers in the lining of a gland. By going to USC, he said, “I can get a quicker start.”
In the Resident Honors Program, he will function as a full-fledged freshman, just a little younger than most. He won’t have special housing or oversight. He’s been away from home before, his mom said. He spent three weeks learning Arabic last summer at Western Kentucky University. He’s soon leaving on a YMCA service trip for several weeks — a trip for which he had to raise $500 and complete 50 hours of community service to be allowed to participate.
Like a lot of promising high school students, Nick gets a lot of mail from colleges. He doesn’t pay much attention to most of it, he said, and he had never thought of USC as a college option. He had his eye toward the northeast and the Ivy League, especially Harvard. But there was something about the early admission program that caught his eye.
It was a complicated form, he said, that asked all kinds of seemingly random questions. “They asked what your favorite food is and who is your favorite musical artist.” For the record, Nick answered that last one Elton John and Pyotr IIyich Tchiakovsky.
Ryann McQuilton, program coordinator, said Nick’s application showed that he had the intelligence and maturity to succeed. She said it stood out because his essays showed his personality, his warmth and his genuine dedication about making a contribution in the world.
“We are excited to have him,” she said.
His mother said completing that application soon became Nick’s focus, in spite of her pleas for other things that could keep him closer to home, such as the Governor’s Scholars Program. They had long talks about it.
In the end, she said, she had to let him go where he would thrive. Plus, she said, “I didn’t have a good intellectual argument” against USC. “It was all emotionally.”
She had just sent her oldest son, Trevor, off to Johns Hopkins University last year to study medicine. She thought she had another year before the nest was empty.
Attending USC costs about $70,000 a year, and Nick’s partial scholarship will pay $60,000. So that was a plus. But both Nick and his mom feel good about his choice after the went for orientation. She saw a safe campus and an engaged faculty who took the time to help her son register for classes and answered all her questions. He saw a campus filled with endless intellectual challenges in the middle of Los Angeles, and a thriving and diverse cultural life. He said he’s going to miss his friends, but he can stay connected with social media and will be home next summer.
And he has promised to text his mom at least once a day for the first year.