It takes a keen eye and a sharp mind to spot an error in a college textbook. Noel Jett identified a mistake in an Introduction to Logic course book at age 13.
Remarkable? Yes, but remarkable comes naturally to Jett, who enrolled at Tarrant County College just after becoming a teenager, in spring 2012. She remains one of the College’s youngest-ever students. Now she’s celebrating a new accomplishment—at age 19, Jett became the youngest doctoral graduate from the University of North Texas. She earned the distinction in December 2018.
Jett was introduced to TCC at age 12 (“12 and a half,” she specified.) when she enrolled at the Texas Academy of Biomedical Sciences (TABS) — a partnership of Fort Worth ISD, TCC and the UNT Health Science Center — in the program’s inaugural year, before TABS offered college classes. After one semester, Jett was ready to enroll at TCC Trinity River.
“It just made sense,” said Jett. “Going to a university is a huge decision, whereas community college enrollment is simpler, and you can just take a class for fun if you want. Community college is great for someone ‘trying out college.’ I would recommend it to anyone, but those of us who are in the vicinity of high-quality community colleges like TCC are especially in luck.”
When Jett took the entrance test, she and her mother, Nancy Shastid, had to wait a long time for her grade. Shastid eventually asked if there was a problem.
“They said that her essay was especially long and it was taking a while to review,” recalled Shastid. “Noel then told me it was a very interesting prompt and she had a lot to say! That is a fond memory.”
Jett started taking two classes as a dual-enrolled high school student. Her sociology professor, Lori Fowler, then talked to the dean about allowing Jett to take three classes.
“She had already taken one of my classes, so I knew her strengths,” recalled Fowler, who says despite the age gap, Jett easily fit in with her fellow students. “Everyone was very supportive and amazed at her dedication and intelligence. Noel brought joy, respect, a great work ethic and a wonderful sense of humor to our class.”
The transition to full-time college student was a logical next step for Jett, who was previously home-schooled.
Noel had an intellectual vitality that needed to be satiated. I could only help her so much. She was so excited to take college-level work with other people capable of college-level work.
Nancy Shastid, Noel's Mother
Jett thrived at TCC, which gave her a chance to experience college at a reduced cost and in a diverse environment.
“In community college, there are a lot more ‘non-traditional’ students than there are at universities,” Jett commented. “I stood out less at community college than I would have at university as a result. Plus, working with older adults at TCC was actually really beneficial in terms of developing my personality.”
She joined a gaming club as well as the Socratic Club, a philosophy organization.
“Her age became most apparent through her wonderfully sarcastic humor that would bubble up — the kind of humor that one typically associates with teenagers,” said Mark Anderson, professor of philosophy and advisor to the Socratic Club. “But the club was — and is — an outgrowth of the natural diversity of the two-year college. We may have up to five decades separating our oldest from our youngest members, and we simply expect people to be in different stages of life. So, I don’t remember the age gap being the sort of thing anybody paid much attention to.”
Unsurprisingly, Jett excelled academically at TCC.
“The classes themselves prepared me for my continued education. I only have positive memories of my coursework at TCC — I suppose the one exception being chemistry, but that’s just because it’s super hard and I’m bad at it,” admitted Jett. “The course itself was well taught.”
Jett accumulated a year’s worth of credits and transferred to Texas A&M University as a sophomore in fall 2013. She decided to major in psychology after taking an Introduction to Psychology course at TCC. She went on to graduate from A&M in 2015 and set her eyes on her next goal. At 16, Jett began working on her Ph.D. in educational psychology at UNT, with a concentration in gifted and talented education.
After accelerating through her undergraduate work, Jett planned to take her time with her doctorate. She ended up completing the five-year program in three years. Her dissertation focused on people who go to college exceptionally early.
“I think, for the most part, it was just as challenging as any other way to do a Ph.D.,” she said of embarking on her doctorate at a young age. “Being younger did mean that my life outside of the Ph.D. was pretty different. And of course it made my life pretty different from other teenagers, but most of my friends in that age group are advanced as well so they at least understand where I’m coming from.”
Jett says she never set out to be UNT’s youngest Ph.D. graduate and that she is just happy with the accomplishment in general. The press attention, however, has its benefits.
“That has given me a chance to spread awareness about the gifted community, early college and women in higher education. That’s what really matters,” reflected Jett, who notes that many media stories about gifted people center around STEM fields of study. “Those stories are great, but it is nice to have some attention for the humanities as well.”
Up next for Jett: another degree. She is now pursuing a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling from Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, preparing for her future career as a therapist.
I feel like I had unique issues as a bright kid growing up that I could possibly help other kids and families using my experience. I do plan to have a holistic client base, though — I want to see all kinds of people. If I can help someone daily, then I think I’ll satisfy my professional desires.
Noel Jett, TCC Alumna
And when she reaches her goals, Jett says she will look back on TCC as a “vital stepping stone” on her educational path.
“A lot of people think of education as learning facts, but what I took from TCC that I still carry with me are the things I learned about how to learn: how to take notes, how to summarize information, how to manage my time, how to prioritize,” said Jett. “At that age you’re also learning how to be a person, and I’m really glad I went through that phase in a place like TCC. It was so refreshing to be around people who wanted to learn and didn’t take it for granted.”