Youngest student at UCF 16, going on 17
Imagine starting college life at the sweet age of 16.
For some, this may be hard to even think about. But 16-year-old Gladys Williams made this ambition her reality.
Gladys, a freshman forensic science major, is currently the youngest out of more than 60,000 students at UCF, said university spokesman Gene Kruckemyer.
Skipping third grade wasn't the only push that gave her a head start in education; she strived to graduate high school early by completing her credits ahead of time and taking full-time dual enrollment classes.
"I work really hard. I've worked for scholarships and community service. I think that's something that sets me apart from other students," she said.
Along with the dedication that she puts toward her school work, Gladys' mother, also named Gladys Williams, said her daughter also put time into teaching herself from a young age.
Both born in the United States, Gladys and her brother Ricardo learned English and Spanish, but did not know how to read and write in Spanish. Being the dedicated, ambitious student she is, Gladys learned the language quickly and figured out how to read and write on her own.
For as long as she can remember, Gladys has always had an interest in forensic science.
Ricardo said he and his sister had watched CSI shows growing up. Although her brother chose another field of interest, Gladys decided to stay with the subject about which she remained passionate.
"She seems to always catch on to things quickly," Ricardo said. "She was psyched to start school in kindergarten. It always came easy to her; she is naturally smart."
Despite being two years younger than her brother, Gladys and Ricardo graduated from high school on the same day.
As a freshman at Mid Florida Tech, he describes his sister as very dedicated and ambitious.
What most people don't know about Gladys is the artistic side that hides beneath her love for science.
"I'm a very good drawer, and a lot of people get surprised. I just really like forensic science, so I want that to be my main career, and drawing would be a hobby," she said.
Although Gladys may seem to be successfully gliding through life, not everything comes easy to a 16-year-old college student.
"I've been looking and applying for a job, but since I'm a minor a lot of places aren't accepting me," she said.
It's the simple things most college students take for granted: seeing an R-rated movie, going out to bars and clubs and buying a car.
Despite the difficulties that Gladys may face, her mother said she is very proud of her daughter for all of her accomplishments that have gotten her this far.
"As far as independence goes, she goes to school alone, she takes the bus and chooses her own schedule based on what she wants to do," her mother said.
Entering her second semester at UCF, Gladys said she is personally most proud of how far she has come with her academic career and to be in a college environment, where most everyone is older.
"Be dedicated to what you do. Hard work and dedication always pay off in the long run," her mother said. "There were people telling my daughter that she couldn't skip a grade; that it would be too hard. But she did it anyway."
Rachel Stuart is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @RachSage or email her at RachelS@CentralFloridaFuture.com.