Ensign Kristine Holderied, who made history when she graduated at the head of her 1984 U.S. Naval Academy class, is unexpectedly back in school, studying oceanography in Massachusetts.

After a 10-month stint in Spain forecasting weather for the Navy, Holderied became one of five Navy students to be accepted to a graduate program sponsored jointly by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Holderied gained notice a year ago when she became the first woman to finish at the top of any service academy class. She expected to pursue her career in weather forecasting and other oceanographic work in Rota, Spain.

But after 10 months, she was invited to apply for, and was accepted in, the Secretary of the Navy's Graduate Education Program, through which the Navy sends students to the MIT/Woods Hole graduate program.

"It's a neat opportunity," said Holderied, 22, in a recent telephone interview. "I didn't expect to go back to school this soon. But it's an opportunity you can't turn down."

Holderied, who grew up in Howard County, finished ahead of her Naval Academy classmates by earning a 3.88 grade point average, combined with her achievements in professional training, physical education, military knowledge and leadership. She also finished four years at the academy without a demerit.

After graduation, she spent a month on a student exchange program touring Germany through a language studies program, then reported to duty in Spain. There, her job was weather forecasting and providing other oceanographic information to U.S. and NATO forces.

"Most of it was on-the-job training. Weather forecasting is something you don't really learn until you do it," she said.

In June, she returned to this country, where she began her two-year studies at Woods Hole on Cape Cod. She will earn a master's degree in oceanography, and, she hopes, continue for another two years to earn a doctoral degree in the same subject.

The 100 students enrolled in the program will spend three days a week during the winter months in classes at MIT in Cambridge and two days at Woods Hole.

If Holderied goes on for a doctorate, she will spend another six years in the Navy, she said, during which she hopes to continue her research in oceanography.