Thursday, April 21, 2011

UA graduate started college when she was 13

Natalie Nevarez graduated from high school not only with a diploma but also with an associate's degree from Arizona Western College. Today, the UA student has already earned an undergraduate degree in communication but is pursuing another in psychology. (Photo by Beatriz Verdugo/UANews)

By Monique Padia
University of Communications

April 19, 2011 - Natalie Nevarez, a University of Arizona student who intends to pursue a graduate degree in affective neuroscience, has had much success in achieving her college education. She started college at age 13 and, by 19, had earned a bachelor's degree from the UA.

Natalie Nevarez started college when she was 7-years-old – not as a student, but as an interpreter.

Nevarez's Spanish-speaking mother had begun taking college classes in English, then geology, math, education and other subjects in their Southern Arizona town. But being a Spanish-speaker, she needed the help of her daughter in understanding the English-only instruction.

"Seeing her move on from a low-paying job as a migrant worker to a stable job as a teacher showed me how much an education really paid off," said Nevarez, a University of Arizona junior.

Nevarez said she later began to wonder: If I am helping my mother and others in the class, why should I have to wait to work toward my own college degree? I can begin earlier.

This eventually led Nevarez to begin her studies at Arizona Western College at age 13, earning an associate's degree and a high school diploma four years later. She then transferred to the University of Arizona, earning an Arizona Assurance scholarship in the process.

"I still feel like I got the high school experience, but even when I was in high school I was already looking way beyond it," Nevarez said.

And once Nevarez arrived at UA, because she was already ahead in her education, she was able to work on two degrees instead of a double major.
She is now pursuing a UA undergraduate degree in psychology, having already earned a bachelor's in communication last year at age 19.

For her, the move from communication to psychology came through her involvement with the UA's Ronald E. McNair Achievement Program, a program that prepares undergraduates for graduate studies and supports them along the way.

"I wanted to better understand interpersonal relationships and relational dynamics. I had an interest in learning about why people might feel compelled to stay quiet in certain situations," Nevarez said, discussing why she is now focused on psychology.

"As opposed to wanting to learn about communication and why people communicate, I wanted to understand why people choose not to communicate," said Nevarez, who is expected to graduate in May 2012.

But Nevarez isn't all academics all the time.

She also keeps busy through her involvement in the Communication Honors Program, Sigma Lamda Gamma and Community Justice Board.

"I've always loved to be involved and see it as my responsibility," she said. "I've found that it is the easiest and most natural way to create friendships with faculty and other members of the UA community, which is something that I love to do."

Still, Nevarez has found time to do independent and guided research on social anxiety, co-authoring a paper, "Family of Origin Environment and Adolescent Bullying Predict Young Adult Loneliness, in the Journal of Psychology: Interdisciplinary and Applied."

Kevin Coe, an assistant professor in the UA's communication department who is one of Nevarez's professors, said it is "her focus" that makes her stand out as a student.

"Starting college so early is challenging on a variety of levels, but it has clearly worked out very well for Natalie, which is a testament to her maturity," Coe said.

Nevarez, who intends to pursue a graduate degree in affective neuroscience and wants to become a professor, said the support she's received from the communication department and McNair program have guided her to where she wants to go.

Said Nevarez: "I feel like overall I have become a more well rounded person and have become better prepared for college."

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