News Column

Scholastic excellence a family affair for Saint Martin's valedictorian

May 2, 2014

By Lisa Pemberton, The Olympian (Olympia, Wash.)

May 02--A family that studies together gets A's together.

That's the case for this year's valedictorian at Saint Martin's University in Lacey: Alexander Anderson, 18, is graduating summa cum laude with a degree in mechanical engineering.

And during the May 10 commencement ceremony, he'll graduate with his parents, Olga and Alex Anderson.

For the past two years, the trio has commuted to the private Catholic university from their home in Federal Way and a cabin near North Bend.

"He chose his own way, and we followed," said Olga Anderson. "It was very fun. It brought us together, and for us it is a normal mode of functioning."

Mom owns a consulting firm and has a background in education and linguistics. Dad is a Boeing aircraft inspector.

Alexander is an only child who was home-schooled. His early education included a wide range of languages, including French, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Russian and Italian.

"He knew almost all Shakespeare plays by heart by the time he was 7," his mother said.

"I did physics with him," his father added.

At age 12, Alexander asked his parents if he could enroll in classes at Green River Community College in Auburn.

College officials told them he was too young to attend classes on his own.

"And that's how we started going to school with him," Olga Anderson said.

The family spent four years at Green River, where Alexander finished the Running Start program and obtained a high school diploma and an associate's degree. He took as many classes as he could, including most of the engineering and math courses, and others that weren't part of that program, such as criminal justice.

"I've really enjoyed it," Alexander said. "I was able to take my time and take any class I wanted."

Alex Anderson said his son has always leaned toward engineering, but he encouraged him to explore other classes to develop a strong foundation.

"That way he can build on it," the father said.

The family's days are long. They're usually out the door by 5 a.m. and get home around midnight, since Alex Anderson works the second shift at Boeing's plant in Seattle.

They've always sat by each other in classes, and they try to work on projects together whenever possible.

"You always have a study group," Alex Anderson said.

"Engineering is harder than education," added Olga Anderson, who already has two master's degrees. "(Alexander) tutors me."

For their international service engineering project, which was presented this week, the Andersons designed a rainwater distribution and sanitation project will help bring clean water to people in Papua New Guinea.

The system, which is affiliated with Rotary International, is scheduled to be installed this summer.

"The New Guinea government ... they're going to take our document and use it to serve as a guideline for building," Alexander said.

He added that the project wouldn't have been possible without their mentors, engineer Bob Wubbena and Dr. Larry Hull, a retired Centralia orthopedic surgeon who has made numerous medical missions to New Guinea.

Zella Kahn-Jetter, dean of SMU'sHal and Inge Marcus School of Engineering, described Alexander as "an extraordinary young man."

"He is extremely intelligent and passionate about the work he is doing," Kahn-Jetter said. "He knows that with his education he can make a huge difference in the world. He is driven in his desire to help people."

During their spare time, Andersons designed a wind turbine that involves blimp technology with a grant from Puget Sound Energy and the Independent Colleges of Washington. It's something they began tinkering with during their time at Green River.

"It's been a garage project," Olga Anderson said.

Alexander already secured a patent on the technology and they plan to launch their system in May near Ellensburg. They are hoping the invention, which they plan to move with a rental or borrowed moving truck, will produce enough energy to run a series of household appliances.

"We're still in the experimental stage," Olga Anderson said.

And soon they will need to decide which graduate school they'll attend -- that's right, they are all planning to pursue master's degrees in engineering together, Olga Anderson said.

Their top two choices are Washington State University and Purdue University.

Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433



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Source: Olympian (Olympia, WA)

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