Updated: April 20, 2012 at 12:00 am
Cameron Kruse has won one of the most prestigious and competitive educational awards there is – a Fulbright grant.
In August he will go to India for a year to research a plant that could have medicinal value for HIV patients in underdeveloped regions of the world.
Not bad for a Colorado Springs kid who was home schooled by his mom.
Kruse will graduate from Pepperdine University in Malibu this week with a degree in biology. He was sitting in class recently when an email popped up telling him of his latest award.
“It was all I could do not to jump up and yell,” he says.
The Fulbright Program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Participants are chosen for academic merit and leadership potential and can study, teacher or do research abroad.
“You are an ambassador for the U.S.,” he says.
His parents, Tami and Gary Kruse of Colorado Springs, are thrilled. She has home schooled all nine of their children. Gary Kruse is an engineer.
“I thought Cameron would do it,” she says.
At age 22 his resume bulges with accomplishments that started well before college:
• He was a bat boy for the Sky Sox for five seasons, from age 12 to 17. One of his jobs was to de-gloss baseballs. But he found doing it by hand inconsistent, so he invented a baseball de-glosser machine that is now patented. It won a prize at the International Science and Engineering Fair. His prototype was made of LEGOs.
• He served an internship at Memorial Health System Learning Link Program, where he worked in the emergency room. He was supposed to get off at 11 p.m., but would sometimes stay until 3 a.m., because doctors invited him to watch surgeries.
• He was recognized in The Gazette’s Best and Brightest Class of 2008.
•In 2008, the summer before his freshman year in college, he participated in the Weissman International Summer Science Institute in Israel, where he studied embryonic heart development.
• In 2009-2010, he studies in Europe. As an aside to that, he got the LEGOs company to provide toys to an orphanage where he worked with the children.
But it was an internship last summer that provided the research idea for the Fulbright.
One of his professors, Steve Davis, said in an email, "Kruse is one of the most creative, enthusiastic, and energetic students I have known. In some ways he reminds me of Charles Darwin who excelled because of keen observation, intellectual engagement, and creative synthesis of experimental data. Darwin was an average student academically but talented in original ideas and problem solving ability."
Cameron was working in western Africa for Lifebread, helping women start bakeries. He met a farmer who grew the moringe oleifera plant.
Cameron explains, “He had a farm where he provided jobs to orphans. He had to work from the time he was 7 years old and built the business from the ground up. It was so moving to meet someone so progressive in thinking and developing food for people.”
Intrigued, Cameron read up on the plant, and found it has an array of applications. There had been some immunology studies. He thought perhaps it could be grown and used in areas where there are no pharmacies. He wrote to Dr. Anita Mehta,who had done research on its use for asthma treatment at L.M. Pharmacology College in India. She liked his idea of studying how it might help HIV patients. And so did the Fulbright committee.
Tami Kruse does not take credit for her son’s academic successes. “He just steamrolls along,” she says.
She got the idea to home school her children from a TV show on the subject when her first child was six months old. (They range in age from 23 to 3). “It inspired me.”
She has a biology degree from Pepperdine. “I wanted to be a doctor, and had kids and let that go.”
She has loved teaching them, drawing on home schooling curriculum and various educational techniques such as Montessori and Waldorf.
She says her kids have not had video games or TV. “When that is the case you have to provide them with toys that encourage ideas.”
But they are not isolated. The community is their school.
Cameron participated in public school sports, including soccer at Pine Creek High School. Now for fun, he surfs and hikes on the coast near Pepperdine.
Tami Kruse has a solution to the teen years, too. “We keep them busy, very busy, and let them follow their passions.”
Her other kids are following their own paths, too. The oldest, Taylor, who also attended Pepperdine, is the assistant to the university’s chief operating officer. Caleb Kruse, next in line after Cameron, is attending Stanford, and has had research papers published. The six other kids are at home.
She says Cameron is easy going, analytical and a planner. “When we went skiing he was the one who made the lists of what we needed and checked it all off.”
She says, “I’m not sure how we inspired him. But we value learning. It’s not just school and then life. Learning is life. Life is learning.”
She explained that when he was young, when he thought he was done studying, he didn’t realize that play was learning. LEGOs, robotics, inventing things, creating tree forts where he could watch birds and understand what made them fly.
“He really became very independent and in charge of his education.”
Cameron says, “I don’t want to sound like home schooling is the only way, but it allowed me to do a lot of creative thinking outside the box.”
Going from home school to college brought new challenges. “People were taking tests all their life, and I had to really work hard at that.”
Cameron knows the intensity of the Fulbright research in India will be a challenge.
But he says he doesn’t let things get him down.
“It’s a pendulum. There may be struggles, but then there is the other side. So I don’t dwell on things that don’t go right.”
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