The Nontraditionalist

By Colby Johnson

Muira McCammon ’13 encourages students to pave their own educational path.


Muira McCammon ’13 is used to taking an atypical approach to her education. In eighth grade, when she wasn’t feeling academically challenged, her parents asked her teacher if she could sit in the corner and read the New Yorker during class. “We actually won that battle, which was formative for me,” says McCammon (Hilton Head, S.C.), who enrolled at Carleton at age 16. “After that, I felt empowered to explore and pursue alternative approaches to learning.”

Her passion for the Arabic language, for example, exceeded the capabilities of her high school’s curriculum, so McCammon spent many hours online researching summer immersion programs before finally finding an affordable one in Morocco. Such experiences have compelled the now 20-year-old, who has a double major in international relations and French and Francophone studies, to help other students find ways to fulfill their potential.

“Age and background don’t need to dictate what students can achieve and pursue,” says McCammon, who is currently writing a college guidebook for young and gifted students. The book will offer advice and resources about the many alternative avenues that exist for particularly passionate young people. “Few resources exist for high schoolers who are contemplating skipping a grade or two, and I’m working hard to remedy that. I want them to understand their options and feel confident to forge their own path.”

Though she’s still in the early stages of writing and hasn’t secured a publisher, McCammon already has talked with more than 10 young high school graduates from across the country about their unique talents and goals, as well as the struggles and challenges they have
faced. “I am fascinated by people’s educational backgrounds, and I love to hear how their experiences have shaped who they are,” she says. “Other students may find themselves grappling with similar questions and ideas.”

McCammon recently received the Beinecke Scholarship, which provides $4,000 for graduate school visits and $30,000 for graduate school tuition. She is looking at graduate programs, but plans to travel abroad for a year first to broaden her horizons.

For McCammon, becoming a college student at age 16 was both daunting and liberating. “I’m an only child and I come from a tight-knit family, so I had some insecurities about leaving home,” she says. “Thankfully, my parents are incredibly supportive and have always encouraged me to challenge myself. So I went for it.”

She applied to 16 schools across the country and ultimately chose Carleton because of its renowned liberal arts curriculum and its generous financial aid package. It also helped that both of her parents are originally from Minnesota and she had spent many summers at a family cabin in Minnesota.

“Coming to Carleton was a great catalyst for me,” says McCammon. “I was able to share my ideas, especially about education policy, with other passionate students and faculty members.” Despite her academic prowess, she rejects the label gifted, preferring the term nontraditional. “Being at Carleton has taught me that we have power over the labels we use to define ourselves,” she says. “I grew up with parents who pushed the idea of multiple intelligences—that you can excel in one arena but have room for growth in another.”

In her book, McCammon also plans to explore various ideas about what it means to be a college student in the 21st century, specifically for nontraditional students. Through the use of innovative new technologies, for example, today’s young adults can have profound cross-cultural experiences as part of their education, whether in person or online. “My book will share the narratives of people who already have navigated alternative approaches to their education, whether it be through traveling abroad, graduating early, or taking online courses,” she says. “I want nontraditional students to see that there are opportunities to explore and places to go where they will be challenged and welcomed.”

For McCammon, that opportunity was Carleton, where her age was never an issue—even though she couldn’t avoid the nickname that her new friends gave her when she initially arrived on campus. “They started calling me ‘the young’un’ and it just kind of stuck,” she says with a laugh. “I guess it’s a label I can live with.”


  • February 11 2013 at 7:52 am
    Sandy Temkin

    Am awed.!

    Your Mom's tennis buddy  from HH.

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