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Above: Ashley Bell, a senior at Vermuten High School, will be a student in the Doctor of Occupational Therapy program at Drake University this fall.

Vermont- Ashley Bell, a senior at Vermont High School, will enroll as a student in the Doctor of Occupational Therapy program at Drake University this fall.

Bell and her family live in Blue Earth, but she has been open to enrollment as a Vermont High School student since her freshman year.

“It’s a larger school district with more kids to learn about. There are also a lot of opportunities.” Bill said.

I started taking regular and required classes which all students attend. However, at the start of her junior year, Bell seriously considered the school’s college classes (CIS) and post-secondary enrollment options (PSEO).

“My goal was to see if I could cut as much of the kidney as possible.” Bill said.

While she said no one specifically gave her the push to stack classes that would give her college credit, she thought it wouldn’t hurt.

“It’s like, I didn’t plan on applying to a PhD program, but the teacher, Mr. Segar, said, ‘What’s the worst that could happen’?” Bill said.

For the past two years, Bell has taken classes that not only fulfill the requirements for a high school diploma, but also give her college credit.

They are physically on the school premises from 8 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. for CIS lessons, which are taught by Vermont high school teachers through accredited programs. Then she goes home to take her PSEO lessons, all of which are available online.

She has taken so many CIS and PSEO classes that she will graduate high school next month with 93 to 95 college credits under her belt.

The high number of credits is almost enough to give Belle a bachelor’s degree, but she realized something else, too.

“That was enough for me to get into the PhD program. Their requirement was 92 credits and I had already started their prerequisites plus the 92 credits,” Bill said.

In the fall, Bill will begin as a student in the Doctor of Occupational Therapy program at Drake University. However, she will have a busy summer before then.

“Starting June 5th, I will be finishing my BA in Psychology online through Grand Canyon University. It will be fast because I am a majority of the way. I thought I might finish that too,” Bill said.

She was in contact with Grand Canyon University, which would attempt to transfer its credits to Drake University. Bell’s other college credits have come from a variety of schools including Minnesota West, Northwestern University-St. Paul and Saint Cloud State University.

“I did a lot of research on my own. The second I found out what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, I did my best for it,” she said. Bill said.

She has a relative in occupational therapy and has thought this field was interesting since she was young. She became more personally connected to the field when her father suffered a stroke last August.

“We had an occupational therapist in the house and I tried that,” Bill said.

She now also works at REM Heartland and enjoys helping clients with their daily living skills.

Once she knew what she wanted to do, Bell had to find a school, though it wasn’t a difficult choice for her.

“Drake has a lot of connections within the state, across the country, and in the world. They have contacts in France and India… They are widely known and very accredited,” he said. Bill said.

She submitted her application to the PhD program in February and traveled virtually to Des Moines, Iowa, for a campus tour and interview at the end of March.

The woman leading the interview at Drake did not tell the panel how old Bell was because she did not want it to influence their opinions. Since the prerequisites for joining the program are very strict, Bell said during the interview that they mostly judge a person’s personality and passion for the program.

Several days after the interview, Bell found out that she was officially accepted.

Her parents were Corey and Kathy Bell “Beyond Happiness” to hear the news.

“The PhD program is expensive, but look how much you save with an undergraduate,” Bill said.

She really likes that Drake University has its own Occupational Therapy building which has unique equipment and rooms set up like bedrooms and kitchens so that students can practice in real places.

While Bell will get a taste for the different areas in occupational therapy, such as children, youth, and productive aging, she feels she is most interested in occupational therapy at home.

Once you start the program, it will take Bill three years to complete it, which includes fieldwork. You will graduate with honors when you are 22 years old.

“It’s crazy to me because that’s the age some people start the program,” Bill said.

Bill is told that it is the first time in Drake’s history to come straight from high school into a PhD program.

It is definitely a unique situation that people have not experienced before. It’s hard for me to relate to another person,” She said.

Since she still has several more weeks of high school left, Belle is looking forward to the milestones at prom, which is Saturday, and her high school graduation party. After that, she can’t wait to start her PhD program.

Bill shared some tips for students who might also be interested in taking a fast track when it comes to education.

“Stay organized but always take care of your mental health first,” She said.

Once she found a balance between her school life and her personal life, Bell said, things got easier. Maintaining a social life and taking care of herself by spending time in the gym was key to Bell’s success.

“I give Vermont much credit and I shall not be able to do it without Mr. Gerdes giving me words of encouragement and advice,” Bill said.

“It’s a unique story right from the start. Her family chose to open enrollment here, which is unique in itself. This is a great example of how our students are challenged academically and go above and beyond typical academic marks,” said Scott Gerdes, Vermont High School guidance counselor.

He said in his time as a school guidance counselor, which spans nearly 30 years, he has never seen a student graduate from high school and go straight into a doctoral program.

“It really is a credit to her perseverance. The fact that she’s kept a part-time job during this time is amazing too. She’s such an amazing young lady and she’s going to do amazing things.” Gerdes said.

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