By Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities

RICHLAND, Wash. – Ryan Wagstaff felt ahead of his high school classmates intellectually and struggled to find his path – until he found the running start program at Washington State University Tri-Cities. It welcomes high school juniors and seniors to take university courses at no cost.

“It has been a really good fit for me,” said Wagstaff, a high school senior in his second year of running start. “I’ve taken on leadership roles and put my best foot forward as a future professional.”

He is well on his way toward a degree in psychology. He takes a full course load, works as student manager of the campus Hospitality Café and participates in and leads other university efforts.

Ryan Wagstaff, center, participates in a panel discussion at WSU Tri-Cities.

Wagstaff and classmates Yesenia Alcaraz and Madison Stredwick founded the Queer and Allies Club, which provides resources for those who associate with and support the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. He is a member of the Psychology Club, has participated in student panels and spoke at the WSU Tri-Cities running start one-year anniversary in 2015.

“Running start has been a great platform to really develop myself as a professional,” he said. “At first you have this perception that people will treat you differently as a high school student, but no one really knows that. I’ve had a really great experience with the program.”

He said professors take the time to get to know their students and provide every resource they can to ensure student success and leadership opportunities.

“Working at the café, I have the flexibility and affordability to interact with my classmates and professors,” Wagstaff said. “I also get to go to all these cool events, meet new people and generally grow as a person in a mature environment.”

Running start, however, has rigorous standards, he said, and students must take into account. The program is geared toward high schoolers who are college-ready, with the academic and social skills to keep up with the rigorous university lifestyle.

“It’s a step up from regular high school classes, for sure,” he said. “I recommend it for students who are diligent, prepared and are achieving at least a 3.5 grade-point average in high school.”

Looking toward the future, Wagstaff said he has applied to WSU Tri-Cities and University of Washington to complete his bachelor’s degree. His ultimate goal is to become a psychiatrist so he can help a wide variety of people through medicine.