April 25, 2007 at 1:00 am

Teen whiz to earn U-M degree in one year

BLOOMFIELD HILLS -- Like 300 of her honors program classmates, Nicole Matisse will walk in graduation ceremonies at the University of Michigan this weekend.

Unlike most of them, she's only 19.

And perhaps unlike anyone, ever, the psychology major will finish her undergraduate degree at Michigan in one calendar year.

"I'm certainly not perfect," she said, patting her dogs, Mocha and Cloudy, in her parents' Bloomfield Hills home. "I've gotten my share of people who say they wouldn't have done it my way. But I've come to realize there's something positive to be said about being different."

Her next stop is law school at Wayne State University in the fall. But before that, Matisse plans to write a book. The subject: her meteoric rise through school.

Matisse began taking courses at Oakland Community College as a junior at Bloomfield Hills Lahser High School, where she was captain of the mock trial team and a member of the varsity soccer, track and tennis teams.

By the time she applied to the university, she already had racked up 44 credits. With 120 credits required for graduation, Matisse was almost halfway through her sophomore year before she even reached campus.

She'll collect her diploma this weekend because it's the only graduation ceremony U-M offers, although she still has some course work to do.

When she got to Ann Arbor last fall, she eschewed the usual student load of 12-17 credits. She took 19 in the fall semester, then 27 in winter. She'll take 23 in the spring, then seven this summer. "When I got to U-M, I only took 19 credits, and I was bored and craved more credits," she said. "So even when I took 27 credits this semester, I felt I could have added even more."

By August, she will have finished her undergraduate career in less than a calendar year, maintaining a 4.0 grade-point average.

It's a feat notable even to honors program adviser Liina Wallin, who sees her share of excellent students.

"Three years is not uncommon, but I don't know anyone who has done it in one year," Wallin said.

And while Matisse revels in being different -- "an oddball" -- she says she lives a life that could be described as typical for a college student. She lives at home. She goes to the movies with her friends and hangs out in Birmingham. She has a boyfriend, Andy Grimm. She likes to spend Saturdays eating fried pickles with her mom at a favorite restaurant in Clarkston.

Her mother, Pamela Naboychik, says her daughter was reading fifth-grade books in kindergarten and learned to multiply at age 3. Then she pops in a videotape of Matisse delivering the commencement speech after finishing in the top of her class at Lahser. Matisse gave the speech without notes.

"I don't think I did anything differently than other moms," Naboychik said. "But I do remember reading to her for at least three hours a day. And we'd always do projects together, involving science or math or crafts."

Matisse's best friend, Samantha Whitehead, 19, of Bloomfield Hills, is a student at Michigan State University. "She's very determined and very hardworking, and she knows exactly what she wants," Whitehead said.

And while Matisse's here-for-a-minute approach to college was impressive, Wallin, the U-M adviser, said she would not recommend this fast track for all college students.

"I admire her tenacity, and it takes a great deal of willpower and time management," Wallin said. "But I think she's shortchanging herself. It's not really the best policy for all students. It works for Nicole. If you've got the time, and our culture says this is the time to do it, then I think it's very good to accomplish it in four years."

Matisse said she would like to become a successful trial lawyer, a wife and mom, and eventually, a Supreme Court justice.

"I don't think that my intellectual pursuits will take precedence over my future familial obligations," she said.

You can reach Shawn D. Lewis at (248) 647-8825 or slewis@detnews.com">slewis@detnews.com.

Nicole Matisse's mom, Pamela Naboychik, says her daughter learned to ... (Wayne E. Smith / The Detroit News)