DURHAM – For Carl Ryden, getting the chance to attend North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics as a teenager was “life changing”.

Almost 30 years later, he’s returned to the school to thank them for the opportunity – and donate a multi-million-dollar gift to the school.

On Thursday morning, Ryden, CEO of PrecisionLender, helped announce that his gift will establish The Ryden Program for Innovation and Leadership in Artificial Intelligence.

The first-of-its-kind program will empower NCSSM students to “use AI for good” as they continue their educations and plan for entering the workforce.

Carl Ryden

“The smartest people I’ve been around in my life has been at Science and Math,” Ryden said in an interview.

“I came out of there with the ability of knowing how to learn, knowing I would never be challenged this way again and feeling like I can do almost anything,” Ryden told WRAL TechWire.

“It puts you on a fundamentally different track.”

Ryden didn’t always have it easy. “I grew up in eastern North Carolina in Southern Wayne County. My single mother was a waitress and sold radio advertising. I was a free lunch kid. We weren’t particularly well off, but I always tested really high on all the academic tests.

“In eighth grade, even though I tested high, I was bored in school. I probably missed 30 days of school. Even when I went to school, I would get in trouble. Nothing bad. I was probably 20 days in school suspension. I was just bored in school. I didn’t have anything to challenge me”

Eventually, a teacher suggested he apply to NCSSM, and that’s exactly what he did.

“When I got there, I surrounded by the smartest people I’ve ever been around,” he said.

Founded in 1980 as the first of its kind, NCSSM has become the model for 18 such specialized schools around the globe.

Specializing in science, technology, engineering, and math, it challenges talented high school juniors and seniors from across North Carolina through a residential program on its historic campus in Durham – and beginning in 2021, on a second campus being built in Morganton.

Its 11,000-plus alumni include local and global leaders in medicine, technology, commerce, education, and the arts.

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