David An, of Latrobe, graduated from Westmoreland County Community College in the spring 2020 when he was only a junior in high school. In 2023 he earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign (UIUC).
How did An graduate from Westmoreland before earning a high school diploma? By enrolling in Westmoreland’s Early College program which allowed him to take college courses in the evenings at the Youngwood campus, Westmoreland-Latrobe and online.
“I was able to transfer 75% of my degree, 90+ credits, from Westmoreland which put me at senior standing when I initially went to UIUC,” An said.
“This allowed me to bypass numerous general education and elective courses and to only take my core classes,” he added.
An said that, while at Westmoreland, he reached out to his professors for specific course syllabi so he could be successful in transferring his courses, as it varies from university to university and especially with out-of-state schools.
“I encountered some friction trying to transfer but I saved all my syllabi from Westmoreland,” An said. Armed with the materials, he was able to have everything transferred once he “made my case.”
“The two years in Early College were both a time and money saver, allowing me to explore different career fields while I’m still young,” he said.
In addition to propelling him through college, the Early College program also provided him with invaluable experience including learning to interact with adults in his classes. This allowed him to not only learn course material but also learn from them.
“I learned time management skills and refined my note-taking skills while at Westmoreland,” An stated. “In other words, I learned how to learn.”
In April while still a student at UIUC, An was featured in Fortune Magazine for discovering that he could use a simple technique known as a “prompt injection” attack to uncover that the social media company Snap’s “My AI” chatbot can access the user’s location. He published his findings in a blog post which was picked up by the magazine.
An advises other high school students to enroll in the Early College program as it opens so many doors for the future.
“It not only provides a head start academically but also opens doors for internships and research positions,” An said.
“While it may seem daunting at first, being young, high school students have the energy to do these things; be ambitious! You never know what special things will happen in the end!”