Eastern Michigan University Early College Alliance student earns perfect ACT score

by Debra Johnson, Published April 18, 2013


YPSILANTI - Sam Tenka was accepted to the Early College Alliance (ECA) program at Eastern Michigan University when he was just 12 years old. Now 16, he is honored to join an elite group of students around the country who have earned a top composite score of 36 on the ACT.


Sam Tenka

"I am glad to receive this distinction," says Tenka. "I am also lucky that I live in an area that offers so many excellent academic resources such as colleges, high schools and libraries. I also credit my parents, and teachers who have helped me pursue my scholastic interests and I especially want to thank Mr. Dugger for letting me participate in the ECA program."

Tenka is currently in his third year in the ECA program and is a student at Ann Arbor Public Schools. He entered the ECA program through an early admission process and said being allowed to take college courses for high-school credit through the Early College Alliance program has been a big factor in his scholarly achievements.

The Early College Alliance gives students an opportunity to earn college credits while still in high school and offers strong, academically focused students a chance to enroll in advanced, college-level coursework. The program provided a unique educational experience designed to fully immerse high school-aged students into the post-secondary learning environment. The ECA program is located on the campus of EMU and exists in partnership with local school districts.

"Early admission has only been granted twice in our history, and Sam was the first," said David Dugger, director of the Early College Alliance program at EMU. "Unlike traditional educational programs, the ECA is non-time centric. We let the fast runners run, and Sam exemplifies what is possible in public education programs where students advance based on skill rather than age and credits."

Several factors have contributed to Tenka's academic success including a keen interest in science, physics and chemistry. Tenka says Richard Feynman, an American theoretical physicist best known for his contributions in the investigation of the Challenger disaster, winner of a Nobel Prize in physics, and his books and lectures, notably the three-volume publication of his undergraduate lectures, The Feynman Lectures on Physics, influenced his interest in physics.

"I like physics for its generality," says Tenka. "Even though it has little to say about anything, it has something to say about everything."

While the actual number of students earning a composite score of 36 varies from year to year nationally, less than one-tenth of one percent of students who take the ACT earn a top score. Among test takers in the high school graduating class of 2012, only 781 of more than 1.66 million students earned a composite score of 36.

"The vast majority of our test takers are in 11th or 12th grade," said Edward Colby, director of public relations at ACT. "The ACT tests cover content up through the 12th grade curriculum, so a student who earns a 36 composite score has likely mastered all of the academic knowledge and skills needed to succeed in first-year college coursework. That's an incredible feat for a 15-year-old student."

The ACT consists of tests in English, mathematics, reading and science. Each test is scored on a scale of 1-36, and a student's composite score is the average of the four test scores. Some students also take ACT's optional Writing Test, but the score for that test is reported separately and is not included within the ACT composite score. All major U.S. colleges accept ACT test scores, and exceptional scores of 36 provide colleges with evidence of student readiness for the academic rigors that lie ahead.

In his spare time, Tenka says he enjoys hanging out with friends, looking at the sky through a telescope, playing the violin, reading books and writing computer programs.

"I don't know what I want to do in college yet," he said. "I am still exploring subjects such as biology, and I am currently interested in areas like math, physics, economics and engineering."

The Early College Alliance enrollment cycle for the 2013-14 academic school year is closed, however, the ECA will continue to accept applications through July 2013 for the wait list. The 2014-15 enrollment cycle will begin in October 2013. Students who are currently in the 9th or 10th grade are eligible to enroll. For more information, contact Crystal Jackson at 487-4290 or email jackson.eca@gmail.com.

Visit the EMU Early College Alliance homepage for more information about the ECA program.

Debra Johnson

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