Students (from left) Timothy Ferguson, Emily Frenz, Michelle Brinker and Ashley Pereira will graduate from UMSL this weekend. They are all 20 years old and first enrolled full time at UMSL with enough college credits to be classified sophomores. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Among the more than 1,500 students graduating from the University of Missouri–St. Louis Saturday, four of them stand out for what they have in common. They’ve all earned high honors, entered college at the sophomore level and are 20 years old. (Since 1974, only 217 of more than 60,000 UMSL graduates were 20 years old or younger.) Not surprisingly, they’re highly focused individuals with grand plans.

Michelle Brinker grew up in Washington, Mo., and came to UMSL with 32 credits she earned in advanced placement classes at St. Francis Borgia High School. She studied finance in UMSL’s College of Business Administration and combined it with a minor in economics. She and her brother, also a UMSL student, share an apartment close to school and a love of the St. Louis region.

“I plan on getting a job in banking right after graduation,” Brinker said. “I know that I’ll probably have to start off as a teller, but I’m willing to do that to learn the business.”

Timothy Ferguson was home-schooled and credits his mother, his teacher for most of his life, with providing him an invaluable experience.

“She taught me how to teach myself, and that’s how I learned calculus,” he said. “It wasn’t exactly pain free when I was doing it, but I kept at it.” At the time, he was interested in physics and math and chose UMSL for its physics program. He was able to take college level exams in high school and entered UMSL with 35 credits.

Once in college, Ferguson decided to major in physics and mathematics and excelled in both. In his senior year he was taking graduate courses and received accolades from both departments. He received the Jeffrey Earl Award as the most outstanding graduating senior in physics.

Ferguson has been accepted into the PhD program in mathematics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaigne.

Emily Frenz, a student in the Pierre Laclede Honors College, also took advantage of advanced placement classes as a student at Trinity Catholic High School in north St. Louis County. She earned more than 50 credits before coming to UMSL.

Not only did she take on the challenging pre-dentistry program, but she was also a student leader, cheerleader and member of a sorority.

Frenz has been accepted at the University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Dentistry.

“I was able to intern with a dentist here in St. Louis, and I know it’s what I want to do,” Frenz said. She hasn’t left anything to chance. She already has an apartment in Kansas City and found a roommate she calls “perfect.”

Ashley Pereira went to Cor Jesu Academy in Affton, Mo. and earned 28 college credits before she arrived at UMSL. She majored in English and also will graduate from the Pierre Laclede Honors College on Saturday. She has her sights set on something a lot bigger.

Pareira loves New York City, a place she calls her “second home.” It’s where her grandmother lives and where she’s headed to write the next great American novel.

“I plan on getting an MFA in creative writing from City College of New York,” said Pereira.

She rattled off a long list of American writers who are her favorites including – Hemingway, Faulkner, Fitzgerald. She sported a Jack Kerouac T-shirt to have her picture taken for this story.

Five commencement ceremonies will be held at UMSL May 12 and 13. For more information, visit



Maureen Zegel

Maureen Zegel