19-year-old University of Lynchburg graduate student balances life in books and barbecue | Local News

While many 19-year-olds like Ali Curcio prepare to return to college campuses this month, Curcio herself faces a different challenge: the final year of her graduate program at Lynchburg University.

Nineteen-year-old graduate student Ali Curcio works the window at her parents’ restaurant, County Smoak, where Curcio manages reception and catering in addition to pursuing her master’s degree.

Bryson Gordon, News and Advance

Just 16 when she graduated from Mary Baldwin University in Staunton, Curcio is still trying to figure out her current situation, which also includes a full-time job at her parents’ barbecue restaurant, County Smoak.

“I’m trying more to create a sense of normalcy around it instead of saying, ‘Oh, this is so special, this is so cool,'” Curcio said last Wednesday, sitting outside the restaurant at his parents. “I think I’m just trying to reach a point of acceptance that this is what my life and my experience was like.”

According to 2018 US Census data, approximately 21 million Americans over the age of 25 have earned a master’s degree. Curcio is looking to join this group before he turns 20 next June.

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While Curcio draws attention to her unique journey, it’s not always something she tried to publicize when she was younger.

“I think I really went out of my way to hide it sometimes,” Curcio said of how she approached the situation when she was at Mary Baldwin to pursue her undergraduate studies when she was just a teenager.

“There were instances where I was a teaching assistant for a few different classes…and I felt like people’s respect for me was going to change when they found out how young I was. I really tried to keep it a secret.

It’s no longer a secret as Curcio goes his own way, knowing well that not everyone runs on the same timeline.

“We live in a society that’s very much like, ‘Well, at this age you have to do this, and at this age you have to do that,’ and I’ve always tried to deconstruct that,” she said. declared. .

“Life isn’t a race to and fro. The fact that I do things at a fast-paced and ahead of the curve point of view shouldn’t be flagged as something so crazy, just like it shouldn’t be to do something later.

As part of this perspective, she manages the reception and catering of a barbecue restaurant. Curcio is originally from Kansas City, Missouri.

She was in kindergarten when she was first labeled as a gifted student and she skipped first grade. Curcio said she went to school from second to eighth grade, but instead of enrolling as a freshman in high school, she skipped all four years, opting to enroll as a freshman. collegiate to Mary Baldwin.

At Mary Baldwin, she participated in the Program for the Exceptionally Gifted (PEG), a residential program that allows girls as young as 13 to pursue a four-year college education.

Curcio said the application process was like “buying a lottery ticket” after seeing how small the classes were, but after going through the process and visiting the school, she said she “knew it that’s where I’m supposed to be.”

Curcio was met with some skepticism from her family members who thought she might be too young to participate in the program. But she said her mum was the one who played a vital role in pushing her into the scheme, saying she always wanted her to have high expectations for herself.

For the majority of her time at MBU, Curcio was determined to pursue a master’s degree in public health, where she wanted to work in the fields of epidemiology or pathology, but her plans changed after experiencing a period of burnout. during his last semester.

“I got to a point in my senior year where I was working on my thesis project all the time and I thought, ‘I can’t imagine spending the rest of my life in a lab or just working on data. I can’t do it,” she said.

Curcio called it “heartbreaking” to focus her entire college career on one goal only to realize that was not where she wanted to go.

“I thought to myself, ‘Maybe I’m young and I have the ability to change my mind,'” she said.

It was then that she realized that she still had a passion for science, but instead wanted to share her passion with others, which is why she is pursuing a master’s degree in science education at the University. University of Lynchburg.

His transition to earning a degree in education is thanks in part to Dr. David Perault, a professor of biology and environmental science at the university and head of the Master of Science Education program.

“I owe Dr. Perault huge congratulations,” Curcio said. “He was the one who got me into the program to begin with.”

During her application process, Curcio said Perault “wasn’t at all fazed” by a 17-year-old applying to join a master’s in education program and was “welcoming and understanding from the start.”

Perault said he didn’t know Curcio was applying to the program when he was 17 at the time, but credited his maturity and dedication.

“From the start, I recognized Ali as a passionate person with a love for science and sharing that love with others,” Perault added. “She is always ready to get involved and really likes to expand her knowledge. I have no doubt that she will very soon be a wonderful educator for our next generation.

Now set to earn a master’s degree at 20, Curcio also wants to be an advocate for children who have similar circumstances to those she had.

“I’m really passionate about giving kids the opportunity to learn in the way that’s best for them, because it’s always done me a disservice,” she said.

“You look at the kids who are overachieving, and we kind of push them through the way we push the kids who are barely achieving…and that feels like a disservice to those kids.”

While she wants to teach, Curcio wants to one day work in school administration to address ways in which students can reach their potential from an early age.

For now, like any other student, Curcio is battling procrastination and struggling to find a good balance between school, work and private life – two things she wants to work on this year.

“Burnout is very real, so my main goal is to break it all up,” she said. “I’m also trying to figure out who I am, who I want to be, and who my people are, while taking a path that’s so out of the ordinary. This is the biggest challenge so far.