Meet Whiz Kid Chris Sutton

High school student forges career path merging life-long professional dream and newfound passion.

Two years ago, when Chris Sutton was a high school sophomore at the now-defunct Cardinal Gibbons, his guidance counselor came to him with a proposal. "He approached me and asked me if I was interested in science, math or engineering," recalled Chris, who now attends Then he explained why.

Chris's guidance counselor thought he'd be a strong candidate for Northrop Grumman Electronic System sector's WORTHY program, short for Worthwhile To Help High School Youth.

The program, created to develop future technical and business leaders, recruits exceptional college-bound high school sophomores and juniors who live and attend school in Baltimore City to work on a project of their choice with engineers once a month for at least one year.

Participants receive training in areas such as college essay writing, SAT preparation, and communication skills. Those who successfully complete the program and get accepted into an accredited technical degree program can receive a partial stipend for four consecutive years of college study.

Chris was intrigued by the invitation, but hesitant.   

"I always wanted to be a doctor," Chris said. When he learned about WORTHY, he'd had no exposure to engineering. But he decided to go for it. Out of 60 nominees, Chris and 11 others were chosen to enroll.

Almost immediately, Chris became hooked on engineering, which he attributes largely to the encouragement of his two mentors, Northrop Grumman engineers Leroy Daley and Ray Moore. "As I started to learn more through my mentors, I started to look for a way to merge my two interests," Chris said, referring to engineering and medicine.

It wasn't long before Chris pinpointed a career that combined his life-long dream of becoming a doctor with his new-found interest in engineering. "I decided to go into biomedical engineering," he said.

Chris completed his first WORTHY project last year. He designed a 3D-computerized model of an ergonomic backpack.

"I'm a relatively small guy," Chris explained. "When I have multiple huge, 1,000-page advanced placement books in my backpack, it's heavy and uncomfortable," he said. Others must be uncomfortable too, he thought.

Before designing the new and improved backpack model, Chris developed a survey about backpack use and related pain and distributed it to about 30 high school students of both genders and all sizes. "Based on my data, 87 percent of people surveyed had some kind of pain related to backpacks. That told me something was wrong," Chris said.  

Chris's new backpack model promises the user comfort, functionality, and even a built-in iPod remote to control music. For now it remains a computerized model, not an actual manufactured backpack. But that hasn't deterred Chris, who's well into his next WORTHY project.

Wanting to focus his second project on biomedical engineering, Chris this year chose to study how blood flows through the heart and lungs. The rationale? To construct a more effective artificial heart.

It's a project that's enlightened even his mentors. "Chris wanted to reproduce the circulatory system of the heart. This wasn't within any of our disciplines. But Chris ran off, did a ton of research, and educated us," said Daley, Chris's mentor.

As part of the WORTHY program, Chris has gained something perhaps even more valuable than a sense of what it takes to be an engineer. He's learned that doors open when you allow yourself to step out of your comfort zone, and he advises other students to do the same.

"I had no clue about engineering in my sophomore year. And what do you know, I gained a love of engineering through the WORTHY program," said Chris.

Next fall, Chris plans to enroll in a biomedical engineering program at one of three colleges where he's been accepted: , Johns Hopkins and Duke. 


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