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Ryan Piurek
IU Media Relations

Last modified: Tuesday, September 2, 2003

IU Feature: New IUB student finds that working more works to her advantage

Erin Earl is just like any other 18-year-old starting at Indiana University Bloomington this fall. She likes watching movies, talking on the phone to her boyfriend, playing sports and hanging out with friends.

Still, there are a few degrees of separation between Earl and most of her peers.

Three, actually.

Earl began her career at IUB this week having already amassed three bachelor's degrees, two majors, one minor, 340 college credits and a GPA of about 3.8.

That's in addition to the hours of computer science classes she taught at the University of Washington, where she started her full-time collegiate career at age 14, plus the hours of playing piano and volunteering for a newspaper that focuses on Seattle's homeless population. She even joined a crew club at the school for a while, before deciding that the 5 a.m. practice time was a little more than even she could handle.

"At Washington, I discovered I actually did better when I took more classes," said Earl, who will pursue a master of music degree in piano performance at the IU School of Music. "Now and then it was pretty painful, but it worked for me because that way I knew I had to study and couldn't put things off."

Earl was in the seventh grade when she was accepted into the University of Washington's Early Entrance Program for academically advanced students. She graduated last spring with a triple degree in applied music (in piano performance), music theory and computer science.

The Redmond, Wash., native, who has played piano since she was 7 years old, was selected as the 2003 Dean's Medalist in the Arts, an honor given to the top arts student at the university. She finished her undergraduate work in four years, after one year in a mandatory transitional school that helped prepare her for the leap from junior high school to college. One year of transitional school is equivalent to four years of high school work.

Earl said she survived the grueling schedule -- sometimes 23 credits in a quarter (an average course load at Washington is 15 credits a quarter) -- by enduring more than a few sleepless nights and maintaining a positive attitude toward her studies. "A lot of my friends who were also high-intensity students thought I was doing too much. They'd say, 'Erin, you can't do all that.' But I found I actually had free time. Things were hectic sometimes, but I always felt that I had free time to do the things I wanted to do," she said.

To her parents, Richard and Min-chih, both computer science programmers who met while working at Seattle-based Boeing Co., it was important that their little girl not be forced to grow up too fast. Earl said she was never in danger of forgoing her childhood, and she credited the Early Entrance Program with encouraging her and her classmates to study hard but also have fun being a kid.

"The program is really careful not to let that (growing up too fast) happen," she said. "It makes available to the students a community of people who also went through the program. It also makes sure that the students it accepts into the program really want to do this and aren't just being pushed into it. We also had things like prom and yearbook that we organized ourselves."

True to form, Earl plans to make the most of her time at IU, which was her top choice when she began looking at graduate schools. She will study with Edmund Battersby, a professor of piano in the School of Music. She expects to practice a great deal and, not surprisingly, maybe take a few courses outside of music. One of those courses might be in computer science, a field that she has excelled in but isn't focused on at the moment. Later this fall, she hopes to find out whether she will be named a Rhodes Scholar and be accepted to study at Oxford University in England. She also hopes to find time to visit her boyfriend, a fellow Early Entrance Program graduate who will spend the next four years studying in Scotland.

"I believe that Erin is destined for some kind of greatness," said Richard Ladner, a computer science professor at the University of Washington, in a recent newsletter published by that university's College of Arts and Sciences. Ladner worked with Earl on a two-year research project that focused on data compression in music. "It is difficult for me to understand how she can do so much both in computer science and in music. She is an amazing talent," he said.

Already, Earl has enough on her calendar to make the average student wish for a few more weeks of summer vacation, but she doesn't seem overly worried.

"I know that as a graduate student there will be certain expectations of me and new responsibilities that I'll have to handle," she said, "but I try not to think about all of those things too much."

Hometown information: Erin Earl is from Redmond, Wash. To arrange an interview with her, contact Ryan Piurek, IU Media Relations, at 812-855-5393 or