Michael Grost was pretty downcast. His parents had promised him ten Superman comic books if he got an A in school. Instead, he got only a B+ and five comics. But Mike's parents were delighted, for the course was Contemporary History of Europe and Asia, and the school Michigan State University. Mike is ten. As a special-status student at M.S.U. last year, the Lansing prodigy scored an A-average while amassing 38 credits in math, humanities, history and science.
The trial period over, Mike last week enrolled as a regular M.S.U. student, youngest in the school's history and almost certainly the youngest student to win admission to a U.S. college in nearly a century. Among other U.S. prodigies: William Rainey Harper, first president of the University of Chicago, who was ten when he entered Muskingum College in New Concord, Ohio, in 1866. The late Norbert Wiener, mathematician and pioneer of the science of cybernetics, was eleven when he entered Tufts College.
At 19 months, Mike Grost had only a three-word vocabulary ("mama," "daddy," "no"), though the average at that age is about ten. His parents stopped worrying three months later, when he started speaking complete sentences; by his second birthday he could count to 100. At three he interrupted a story his mother was reading to him. "Why don't you ever let me read to you?" asked Mike, and was allowed to do just that. When Mike's kindergarten teacher asked the class to draw a picture on any subject, he mapped the solar system and labeled all the planets correctly.
When Mike was in the fourth grade at Cumberland Road elementary school (he skipped the third), his principal took him to M.S.U. Education Professor Elizabeth M. Drews, who had been rather precocious herselfshe entered the University of Oregon at 15. She arranged for the Wunderkind to monitor M.S.U. courses to see if he could take the grind. Professors expected a freak with a photographic memory, discovered instead a welladjusted, serious child who thought logically, had a zest for ideas, and made subtle, discriminating judgments. At home, he was well behaved, with a normal ten-year-old's enthusiasm for baseball, marbles, stamp collecting. "Mike," his mother once shouted, "put away your blocks and study your humanities."
Though Mike's IQ was too high to be tested meaningfully, he placed ninth among 3,400 M.S.U. students who took a comprehensive natural-science exam, was in the top 10% of doctoral candidates on a graduate-student screening test.
Mike will carry a 13-hour program during his first semester at M.S.U. If the pressure gets too tough, says William Grost, his father, a credit-union executive and M.S.U. graduate, "we told him he could return to grade school any time."