Freshman Nicki Lehrer is a classical guitarist.

She has played on Capitol Hill and on ABC-TV. She performed at Yosemite National Park, the French Embassy, and at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

The 18-year-old native of Rockville, Md., who plays Spanish flamenco music, has in the past five years performed in 120 concerts across the United States and Mexico. At 12, she released her first CD, The Beltway Tour. At 14, she recorded, Beyond the Beltway. And at 17, she released her latest CD, Crescendo.

Michael Bard, a classical guitarist who performs around the world, recently told a Washington reporter, “She’s a fantastic young musician and performer…She has that touch. You can’t earn it or learn it. It’s a gift.”

Lehrer says performing has taught her most to value relationships.

“Performing across the country brought me closer to others,” she says. “Music unifies people. It reaches your soul and opens the door to honest communication. Even if people don’t speak English, you still share feelings and a deep connection. I’ve learned how to create deep bonds of friendship.”

Child Performs

At 7, she was the youngest street musician in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C. “I made a big sign that listed all the songs I knew and asked my Dad to drive me downtown. I made him stand across the street, and I played for everybody who walked by. It was an incredible experience. I met so many people,” says Lehrer, who earned $24.14 in the first hour.

She put the money towards an amplifier, which she needed, she says, “to drown out the roar of the buses. Eventually, people would ask if I had a recording of my music,” she says, adding that it gave her the idea to put her subsequent earnings towards the eventual release of The Beltway Tour.

At 11, she had her first solo concert at Borders Bookstore Café. She later performed multiple times at Borders; Barnes and Noble bookstore cafes; and at Starbucks. Her CDs are now available for $15 in Washington- area stores as well as at gusrecords@aol.com.

Music dominated her childhood, but Lehrer also had another passion. When she was 13, she was awarded a United States patent.

The daughter of a businessman and a special education teacher, in sixth grade she was assigned to cover her world studies book. She used a paper shopping bag with handles, which gave her an idea.

Why not invent a device for schoolchildren to carry their books by a handle, taking the weight off their backs. The result was The Gripper — an invention that allows kids to carry their books like a lunch box or dangle them from their handlebars.

The patent process took two years. She perfected the design, investigated various materials, colors, and graphics, and traveled with her Dad to school office products trade shows. She learned what it meant to do a patent search, hire an attorney, and file a patent. “Now,” she says, “I’m looking to collaborate with a manufacturing partner to get this on the market.”

Straight A’s

Lehrer has won more than a dozen regional, state, and national awards. A straight-A student in high school, she took college courses in physics and engineering. Now at MIT, she plans to double major in physics and aeronautics and astronautics.

“I dream about becoming an astronaut,” she says. “While studying at MIT, I’d love to get my pilot’s license. Ever since I was four and watched a space shuttle launch on TV, I have visualized myself traveling into space.”

Last summer she had an internship at the Boeing Company in Seattle, where she worked in the new product development division. “I had the time of my life. I learned about engineering and aviation. To see planes being manufactured was such an inspiration.”

Lehrer, who has studied guitar 11 years, now continues her studies in Boston at the New England Conservatory of Music. “I’m really looking forward to finding the balance between school and music,” she says. “My big focus is my MIT education, but music is my way to relax. I like performing too much to give it up. I’d like to have a dual career.”

Lehrer, who asked for a guitar for her seventh birthday, says: “I meant a toy guitar, but my parents bought a real one. It was a wonderful mistake. All my musical experiences have showed me that having the discipline to work hard, you really can achieve anything.”