Charting His Own Course

Charting His Course

At first glance, when browsing Mason Thao’s admittedly sparse Facebook page, fishing jumps up as the major theme. Not unusual for a high school senior who’s lived in Manitowoc his entire life. The primary photo shows him sitting in a boat holding up a fish, presumably from Lake Michigan. But there’s more to this fish story.

“I went vacationing in Thailand. That was a grouper.”

What’s also surprising is that this soon-to-be Lincoln High School senior is also simultaneously entering into his second year in college. Through UW-Green Bay’s Rising Phoenix program, admitted “Ships” from Manitowoc can do both. And that might also explain his scant Facebook presence—he’s got bigger fish to fry. As in attending college as a high school junior.

No, Thao isn’t scary-smart with “Big Bang Theory” astrophysicist aspirations. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) His career goal? “I’m looking into dentistry.” While dental school doesn’t require the decade-plus years of training for a medical career, it’s still usually at least an eight-year investment.

So why not get a head start? All it took was enrolling in the Rising Phoenix program, some guidance along the way, and lots of hard work. Thao was up for the challenge.

“It was super new and I wanted to get first-hand college experience. I thought it was a cool experience that you could potentially get your associate’s degree.”

Aspirations for a career in dentistry don’t leave a lot of wiggle room in course choices, but Thao still experienced the hallmark of a classic liberal-arts education—choosing courses.

“I got to choose classes that I’m interested in.” My advisor gave me the rubric of what I need for my associate’s degree. I’m free to take the classes I want to fulfill the requirements.”

So does that mean dodging pre-calculus for the math-phobic?

“No, I had to go through calc.”

Plus, there’s the additional challenge of adjusting to the freedom and demands of attending college—while still in high school. But to continue the fishing metaphor, Thao took it like a salmon to an alewife. “My first semester, I got all “As”. Not there hasn’t been a rough patch or two. “The second semester, I got all As and one C— in Calculus. It was rough, but I got through it.”

Beyond just making the grades, walking onto a college campus and classroom also presented a different learning experience. “At Manitowoc, you’re a lot closer to your professor. The classes are smaller, and you go a lot more in-depth. It’s a lot more focused and personal.”

Speaking of getting personal—“I made friends with a 50-year-old guy. He was in the same bio class as me. I was like, ‘Dang! This is kind of interesting’” His “new” classmate also turned out to be a fellow Ship who graduated from Lincoln High in 1999. ” I haven’t graduated yet, but here we are in the same class.”

Two Ships, setting sail.

Manitowoc Lincoln High School is currently embarking on its second cohort of Rising Phoenix. The class of 2023 has been admitted and will start the program in Fall 2021. If you would like to learn more about potential future cohorts please bookmark Manitowoc Lincoln High School’s dedicated webpage.