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Train fan on board for MIT

Freshman Anthony Rizos stands on the tracks by MIT's new brain and cognitive sciences complex earlier this month. Rizos turned his love of trains into a job at Amtrak.
Freshman Anthony Rizos stands on the tracks by MIT's new brain and cognitive sciences complex earlier this month. Rizos turned his love of trains into a job at Amtrak.
Photo / Donna Coveney

This is the third in a series of profiles of members of the freshman class.

Freshman Anthony Rizos of Lake Havasu City, Ariz., discovered his life's dream at the age of 9 when he stepped aboard a train.

"I found my calling atop wooden ties and steel rails," Rizos said in his blog on MIT's web site.

After his first train trip in 1996 along the West Coast with his mother, the enterprising elementary school pupil started his own web site dedicated to Amtrak train service. "I fell in love," said Rizos, who has logged more than 40,000 miles on Amtrak since that first trip.

"There is something about the experience on board a train. There is a romantic aspect to it," he said.

Replete with personal stories of train trips, photographs and a discussion feature, the site earned a lot of attention quickly. The chief information officer at Amtrak was soon interested and, in 2000, he personally offered the 14-year-old a job with the company.

Since then, Rizos has worked remotely in the information technology department of Amtrak, which is based in Washington, D.C. "When you live in the middle of nowhere, you have to make your own opportunities," Rizos said with a laugh.

The early success was not unusual. At 18 months, he taught himself to read street signs from his car seat. At 4, he learned how to use a computer. By the time he entered kindergarten, his teachers had recommended him for placement in a gifted program for third-graders.

Being younger than his fellow students was not always easy, said Rizos, who graduated from high school at 16.

With a lifelong interest in computers, coming to MIT was a no-brainer for Rizos, who first heard about the school through a co-worker at Amtrak. It was difficult to get help at his high school. "It was unusual in my school for someone to apply to MIT, so my teachers had trouble helping," he said.

Rizos applied for early admission and waited, hoping that he would be accepted. "I just knew it would be a good environment for me," he said.

With his Amtrak job secure, Rizos decided to wait to come to MIT. "I was so much younger all through high school," he said. "It was very difficult."

Armed with two years of full-time work experience and knowledge to share, Rizos was ready to embark on his new life this fall. "This is the first time in my life I will be with peers I can talk to," he said. "I have been ready for this for years."

Class of 2009 by the numbers

82% participated in high school academic competitions
44% had a job during the school year

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 28, 2005 (download PDF).

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