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16-Year-Old Graduates From Texas A&M

Texas A&M Today

Texas A&M graduate Noel Jett, 16From Doogie Howser, M.D. to Sheldon Cooper, the idea of child prodigies attending college before they can get a driver’s license has often been fodder for sit-com humor. According to 16-year-old Noel Jett, who graduated this month from Texas A&M, although such situations are quirky, the profoundly gifted often struggle emotionally and she hopes to devote her professional life to helping them.Jett, a Fort Worth native, accepted her bachelor’s degree in psychology at the College of Liberal Arts’ commencement ceremony at Reed Arena on May 16.She says most of her professors and fellow students were unaware of her age, and those few in-the-know were supportive.

The Road To Early College

Jett’s unique journey to college began in kindergarten when she was already reading chapter books. When testing revealed she was gifted, her mother chose homeschooling.

“I took two college-level math classes when I was 10 [one online and one taught by a tutor],” she recalls. “When I was 12, I decided to try public school again.”

She started out well in the small, STEM-focused high school, but it “quickly became a difficult experience for me, both socially, in that some people were hateful, and academically as it was several steps backwards.” After one semester, Jett dropped out, returned to home schooling and co-enrolled at Tarrant County College.

At community college, she was able to earn the credits to finish high school and start earning college credits.

Jett at the Physics and Engineering Festival

She graduated high school at the age of 13, then applied to four universities, including Texas A&M, and was accepted by them all.

“Of the four schools, A&M was the most respectful, helpful and enthusiastic,” she notes. “Everyone I dealt with during the admissions, acceptance and enrollment process was just really nice. It was also the most affordable.”

It helped that her experience with Texas A&M began years before. “I had been attending the Physics and Engineering Festival here since I was pretty young, as well as SEE-Math camp. Even then, people were very kind and helpful.”

Being An Aggie

Jett says life as an Aggie was challenging and exciting; she took part in a number of extracurricular activities. “I really enjoyed Elephant Walk,” she recalls. “And I had an amazing time at Big Event.” She also writes for Texas A&M’s satirical newspaper, “The Mugdown,” and is a member of Cepheid Variable, a student organization comprised of science-fiction/fantasy fans.

“I helped out at AggieCon [Cepheid Variable’s annual convention] and the Aporkalypse, the end of the year celebration that includes probably 20 different meat dishes!

“But I’m most involved in Young Americans for Liberty, a political group through which I’ve been able to attend a lot of fun conferences, including one in D.C. – definitely one of my most memorable college experiences.”

Another memorable experience happened last fall when she won $25,000 on the game show “Who Wants to Be A Millionaire” during “Whiz Kids Week.”

Noel Jett on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire"

“It was so much fun,” she shares. “And it was so much money, it didn’t seem real. Like it was just numbers, not real money, even though I knew it was. The whole experience was just surreal.”

Jett has spent much of her time at Texas A&M conducting research on such subjects as gender differences in computer use. “I’ve learned so much from all the research I’ve done; it’s been interesting and really valuable. I’ve met a lot of great people,” she notes.

A Future Dedicated To Helping Others

Her interest in psychology and her experiences being profoundly gifted have inspired Jett to pursue a career advocating for gifted students and their families. She plans to pursue her Ph.D. in Educational Psychology with a concentration in Gifted and Talented.

Noel graduating high res

And she says she’ll continue her research into the intersections between neuroscience, addiction, suicide, depression, adolescents and giftedness.

“My community faces a lot of struggles and they go unnoticed because the smart kid is seen as lucky, when really the smart kid isn’t always treated like a human,” she asserts. “Bullying is a big issue for a lot of us.”

Jett’s mother, Nancy Withers Shastid, who also started college at an early age, 16, says while she was nervous about the challenges her daughter would face attending college so young, “Noel has an intellectual vitality beyond her years, but more importantly, a social maturity and perceptiveness about people.” That, she says, made the choice for radical acceleration easier.

Jett says being gifted is “not just about being better at math, it’s a different mindset and it comes with pain and struggle. People have told me things like ‘Wow, you’re so smart, you should cure cancer!’ Why does that responsibility fall on me? That’s not my field. Of course they don’t mean any harm, but I don’t want to be compared to a TV character.”

Shastid says she’s of course overwhelmed with pride for her daughter’s intellectual gifts, but says what she’s most proud of “is her desire to serve others, whether it be on a church mission trip, at a homeless shelter, or just being a friend to those in need.”