Article & Photography by Neil Harman | Owl Staff
William Burlew may seem like an average 22-year-old: he likes Netflix, Chipotle, music, and traveling with his friends. However, William Burlew enrolled in community college at 14, earned his Bachelor’s degree at 19, and obtained a Master’s degree at 21.
His early passion for math and science inspired him to apply to the Science and Math Academy (SMA), a specialized school within Aberdeen High School. He was accepted among just 50 other students throughout Harford County. With his high ambitions, it became clear that he was going to take it even further.
Burlew enrolled at Harford Community College initially to fulfill his high school gym requirement, a common practice for many Aberdeen High School and SMA students at the time. Burlew enjoyed his gym class, but HCC captured his curiosity further.
His mind made up to pursue the math and science field, Burlew’s decision to continue his education at HCC was further emphasized by the fact that his older sister was also an HCC student.
A freshman in high school, he first had to qualify for additional classes by taking the American College Test (ACT) that consisted of standardized sections of English, Math, Reading, and Science. Burlew met it head on and attained a score that approved him to take more classes at HCC.
“At first it was a bit of a struggle because everybody saw me as a kid,” says Burlew. Mostly unshaken by the new atmosphere and older peers, Burlew persisted, and his intellect and hard work would soon prove that he was indeed not just a “kid.”
These new, older peers that initially made him uncomfortable began to ask for his help, “When I started at HCC, I was motivated by my innate desire to challenge myself, but as I attended more classes people asked me for help and I love helping people,” says Burlew.
“Sometimes the best way to reinforce your own knowledge is to share what you know with others,” says Burlew.
According to Calculus professor Chris Jones, “Burlew was a model student in a traditionally difficult course. I frequently observed Burlew working with his classmates before and after class on assignments and preparing for examinations.”
“It was important to do well and in order to make myself better, I wanted to learn,” says Burlew.
At 17, Burlew graduated from HCC with a 3.96 GPA, receiving his Associate’s degree before his high school diploma. This workload ultimately required Burlew to make school a priority.
“I spent a lot of time studying for all my classes and so while I was in high school, I had to sacrifice a lot of the social aspects. I couldn’t go to every party or stay after school all the time and hang out with friends,” says Burlew.
A year after receiving his Associate’s, Burlew graduated from SMA and was accepted into the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC).
He entered as a junior and continued his journey, acquiring a Bachelor’s degree in chemistry by the age of 19. Two years later, with the same intensity, he achieved a Master’s degree from Stevenson University in forensic science at the age of 21.
“I want to make a name for myself,” Burlew says. Today, he is fulfilling a dream: working full-time as a research chemist at the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center among some of the
region’s top scientists.
Burlew credits many of his instructors, supervisors, and family for their help throughout this journey as a crucial contributing factor to his early success.
“I asked for help when I needed it,” says Burlew. “It’s up to you to take charge and find the people that can help you.”
Although it isn’t possible for everyone to tackle school like Burlew did, it is possible to enjoy the same success in different ways. “Pick something to do that you love, go full force and do everything you can to achieve your goals,” says Burlew.
He adds, “Live in the moment, but make sure you keep the future in mind.”
Burlew has been planning for the future since he was 14 and has demonstrated the value in doing so.
Whether we’re older or younger, a student or not, we all can learn from Burlew’s experience. He set goals, studied hard, challenged himself, and
No matter what goals we have, we shouldn’t be afraid to stand out in a crowd and do whatever it takes to get there.