20 in their 20s

Cortlan Wickliff’s book, “Young and Driven: Overdrive,” published in 2017, is a blueprint of exercises and lessons learned on how to succeed in life. And he should know. At a very early age, Wickliff was fascinated with electronics and eager to invent medical devices. But the untimely death of his father from a heart attack changed Wickliff’s focus. He realized that instead of designing the equipment, he needed to find innovative ways to reduce the time it takes to get technology to market by efficiently navigating legal and technical hurdles. Thus, at 10 years old, his three-degree plan was hatched.

At 15, Wickliff started his college career, finishing his required high school classes and earning 70-plus college credits that he used to apply toward his bioengineering degree at Rice. Graduating in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree, Wickliff became the nation’s youngest engineer at 19 — earning the first of many mortarboards — and headed to the East Coast.

Leaving Texas for the first extended time in his life, Wickliff entered Harvard Law School. This time, acclimating to college life was more challenging. “I strengthened my abilities to advocate for myself and others,” he says, “and [gained] the tools to argue policy.” When Wickliff graduated in 2013, he became one of the youngest African Americans to graduate from the school. After passing the state bar, he became the youngest attorney in Texas.

At 15, Wickliff started his college career, finishing his required high school classes and earning 70-plus college credits that he used to apply toward his bioengineering degree at Rice. Graduating in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree, Wickliff became the nation’s youngest engineer at 19 — earning the first of many mortarboards — and headed to the East Coast.

Still intent on melding business, law and technology, Wickliff went on to Texas A&M, where he completed a Ph.D. in engineering. He returned to Rice in 2018, not as a student but as associate vice provost for academic affairs and strategic initiatives. “Rice gives me so many opportunities to positively impact so many people, and I can’t imagine a job that could give me that same access and ability,” he says.

In 2019, the second edition of Wickliff’s book was released. So in October, to motivate people to pursue their dreams and believe in themselves, he embarked on a self-funded speaking tour, Be Driven to Succeed, a 25-city, 4,500-plus-mile endeavor in which he spoke to over 40,000 students in high schools, colleges and community events across the state. Beginning in Beaumont, Wickliff spent his vacation on the road, giving a total of 52 presentations.

Wickliff recounts hearing about a student who attended a youth engineering camp that he organized and spoke at. “He had recently been orphaned and was having issues in school,” says Wickliff. “He soon after turned his life around and credited what I said at the conference for his motivation and change of heart. So, anytime I can motivate someone to improve their lives or pursue their dreams,” Wickliff says, “is a proud moment for me.”

Read more “20 in Their 20s” profiles here.

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