Dora Lott walks down the street in the downtown of Farmland, Indiana.

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]mong the items on Dora Lott’s off-to-college checklist: a driver’s license.

“I got my permit last year, and I’ve been working to get my 50 hours of driving practice because when Ball State starts, I’ll be commuting to campus,” she said.

At 16, Lott is starting college two years earlier than most other freshmen joining her Monday for the first day of classes. Projecting a maturity and independence that belie her years, she isn’t worried about sitting in on lectures with older peers.

“I’m actually more nervous about finding parking on campus,” she said, flashing a small grin.

Dora Lott sits at a table with her laptop computer at a coffee shop in the town of Farmland, Indiana.

Lott, an unofficial teacher’s aide while in first grade, would tell jokes only her teacher understood. “Dora is smart, witty and able to hold her own around older people,” said Ainsley George, a friend of Lott’s who’s a Ball State junior.

A favorite subject becomes a major

From early on, Lott’s parents, Dwayne and Cari, knew their daughter was exceptionally gifted.

Growing up in the small town of Farmland, about a 30-minute drive from Ball State, “Dora caught on to school in an “amazingly quick way,” Cari Lott said.

“In the first grade, her teacher had her helping her fellow classmates, and she would always tell jokes that were above their heads, that only the teacher understood.”

While Lott was well-liked in class, she struggled to make friends. By the end of that year, her parents and school principal decided it was best to let her to skip second grade. When Lott faced the same challenges after fourth grade — growing bored in school and struggling to connect socially with her classmates — she was allowed to move on to the sixth grade.

Both times she jumped ahead, “my teachers were worried about my math skills, so that’s what they had me focus on,” Lott said. “That’s a big reason why it became my favorite subject.”

So much so that Lott, who especially loves trigonometry and geometric proofs, is majoring in mathematics education.

“People are always impressed when I tell them what I’m majoring in, or they say, ‘Why would you want to deal with math the rest of your life?’ And I think that’s another thing that drew me to it,” Lott said. “That, and all my favorite math teachers were female.”

Living at home to save money

Among Lott’s friends are a handful of returning Ball State students like Ainsley George, a Farmland resident who also attended Monroe Central Jr./Sr. High School, where the two bonded in band class.

“I’m looking forward to showing Dora around campus and to us grabbing lunch between classes,” said George. The 20-year-old women’s and gender studies major isn’t surprised to see Lott starting college so young. “Dora is smart, witty and able to hold her own around older people. She’s used to people underestimating her because of her age, so I have a lot of confidence she’ll be OK here.”

While Lott received enough scholarships to cover her tuition, she’ll continue living at home — mostly to save money. “I think my mom was nervous about me living on campus because of my age, but after orientation, she seemed less so. Now it’s more about me being able to afford it.”

Cari Lott explained: “My children pay for their own college. We help out when needed, but my husband and I feel this gives them more ownership of their accomplishments. It also teaches them the value of what’s been given to them.”

Lott’s older sister, Sari, recently graduated from college and teaches French at Monroe Central; her brother, Brighton, is in the Army Reserve and studies precision machining at Vincennes University, while her younger sister, Tobi, is an eighth-grader at Monroe Central.

‘I’m excited to feel independent’

Ask Lott what she’s looking forward to about Ball State and the blue eyes behind her sophisticated black frames light up.

“I’m excited to feel independent, to drive myself to school every morning. My senior year, I rode the bus. But I also can’t wait for all those moments in between classes … getting to sit in the library and read. Going out and buying lunch on my own.”

Among the classes she’ll take this fall: introduction to teaching math, educational psychology, calculus 2 and an Honors College class about Jim Crow laws.

“The nice thing about my Honors classes is knowing I’m part of a smaller community here. I like having the sense I’m already a part of a group, that I already belong somewhere.”

While studious, Lott makes time for extracurricular activities. She loves playing instruments — a violin and trumpet player, she’s considering joining Ball State’s marching band — and enjoys the TV series “Friends.” When complimented on her floral body suit and vintage jeans, Lott confesses she enjoys picking out clothes she likes from local thrift stores.

Making the most of her Ball State experience

Only when talk turns to plans after college does Lott’s confidence falter a bit.

“I know I want to graduate in four years, but that means I’ll be graduating really young — I’d only be two years older than the students I’d be teaching in high school.”

For now, those fears are so far off Lott is happy to focus on the opportunities that await her as a newly minted Ball State student.

“I know I want to study abroad at some point … and I’m planning on picking up a minor in special education.”

As she talks about a related night class she’ll be taking this semester, a course on teaching hearing-impaired students, Lott trails off, a surprised look crossing her freckled face.

“I just realized this means I’ll be going out by myself at night.”

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