Ryan Catalfu showed early on he could master software.
A decade ago, 6-year-old Ryan wanted to honor his father’s birthday by writing a poem. He sat at the family’s computer, and after about 20 minutes he gave his poem to his mother.
“He looked at me and said, ‘Mommy, I used such good word choices that even the computer didn’t know them. I had to add them to the (Microsoft) dictionary!’” Barb Catalfu said. “It never occurred to him that he could have misspelled the words. But I had to give him credit for knowing how to add all of his misspelled words to our dictionary.”
Fast forward 10 years, and it should be no surprise to his parents that Ryan has mastered Microsoft Word as well as anyone in the U.S. and, almost, the world.
After taking first place in state and national Microsoft Word competitions, the Green Hope junior finished in second place at the Microsoft Word 2010 World Championship, which was held in Dallas in August.
The national and world championship competitions consisted of the participants doing project-based tests to demonstrate their ability to recreate documents in Word. The students were graded on their efficiency, accuracy and time. The students had a 50-minute time limit. Ryan competed with 25 to 30 other students.
“You don’t have time to look back over anything,” said Ryan, 16. “You don’t have time to think about, ‘Is this the best way?’ You just have to do it and then move on quickly. You can’t be indecisive.”
When the final results of the world championship were announced, his family was ecstatic, but Ryan, being a perfectionist, wanted answers about his landing in second place.
“I don’t think I understood how significant it was,” he said. “I was excited but also a little disappointed. I was so close. I wish I knew what was different or what I did that was wrong. There was no score or time.”
The silver medal at the world championship capped a hectic few months for Ryan.
He took the Microsoft Word/PowerPoint class at Green Hope as a sophomore. He was interested in the class, but then again, he’d always been interested in technology.
He had started spending time before school with Marty Roettgen, a Green Hope career and technical education teacher who offered Microsoft classes. She noticed an aptitude in Ryan.
“It was obvious from the start that Ryan was smart and had the capability to do well,” said Roettgen, who has since retired. “I had three previous national champions, so I had a pretty good idea of what it took. Our conversations in the morning started to become more of what it would take mentally to win and what the competition was like.”
She encouraged Ryan to take his first certification test, and soon he did. He scored very well, and was hooked.
“I found the certifications fun,” he said.
Every North Carolina student who passes the certification test is eligible to win the state championship. To be a state champion, students have to get a perfect score (1,000) and do it in a fast time. Ryan started taking certifications multiple times a day in order to lower his time, eventually finishing it in less than four minutes to win the North Carolina competition in Microsoft Word 2010.
Winning the state title earned him a trip to the 2015 Microsoft Office Specialist U.S. National Championship in Orlando, Fla., in June. He competed with 20 to 25 students in the 2010 division. The pressure was on, because only the champion of each division advanced to the world championship.
“When he was announced as the winner, I have to admit, I had to fight tears of joy,” said Roettgen, who accompanied the Catalfus to the nationals. “The mental progress that Ryan made to get to this point was more than any teacher could hope to have experienced in a career.”
Then it was on to the world championship. He met with Roettgen at Green Hope during the summer to prepare.
“No student worked as hard as Ryan at getting ready for the competition,” Roettgen said.
There were participants from 47 countries at the event, and Ryan got to see how popular Microsoft is around the world.
“I learned how universal these products are, how many people use them.”,” Ryan said.
Ryan plans to compete again next year. As a national champion, he can’t take part in Word competitions, but he is taking a Microsoft Excel and Access class this semester. He could also try PowerPoint.
“He can do anything he wants in technology,” Gary Catalfu said.
As for a career, Ryan is still thinking about it.
“I want to definitely do something in technology,” he said. “I don’t quite know what. I like to fool around with things. I don’t know much about code and programming. I like to figure things out.”
“Ryan has more potential than he knows, and I expect him to go far,” Roettgen said.
About the series
Through Oct. 19, Thumbs Up is highlighting students who excel in STEM activities and education, a curriculum that focuses on science, technology, engineering and math.
Don’t miss STEMology
The News & Observer and Bayer CropScience are teaming up to bring you STEMology, an event designed to bring together STEM leaders and students. It will feature student demonstrations, interactive displays, a panel discussion and food.
When: Oct. 22, 5:30-8:30 p.m. Where: Raleigh Marriott City Center, 500 Fayetteville St. Cost: $10 for adults, $5 for ages 6-17, free for ages 5 and under.