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Not Your Average Students

Education is a lifelong endeavor, as evidenced by this comparison of two of UCF’s oldest and youngest students.

When it comes to following your dreams, it’s never too early or too late to accomplish them. Achieving a college degree is the goal of many. It paves the way to opportunity, a better future and embraces a growth mindset.

Meet two students who have embraced the adage that learning happens at any age. And while they’re decades apart, they share the same ambition: completing a degree. One is a future cosmetic surgeon who finished high school before she could even get a driver’s license; the other is working toward completing her third UCF degree this May and is passionate about exploring new subjects.

Get a glimpse into their lives, their college experiences and what comes next.

Portrait of Jamie Gunera Amador

Jamie Gunera Amador

AGE: 15

MAJOR: Biotechnology with a minor in biology


COURSE MODALITY: On campus. I like seeing the campus — it’s really pretty. Plus, I prefer being in a classroom setting. I tend to learn better that way.

WHY UCF: Growing up, I had always heard of UCF — especially from teachers who were alumni. They would talk about the university and the opportunities available, like the different programs, the faculty and campus life.

FAVORITE CLASS AND PROFESSOR: Biology with (assistant research scientist) Melinda Donnelly. She’s a great teacher.

WHAT’S IT LIKE BEING A YOUNGER STUDENT?: I’ve been taking college classes since eighth grade, so I’ve learned to adapt. But the pandemic has helped me acclimate myself to UCF, especially by wearing a mask. No one can see how young I am, so that really helps.

FUN FACT: Since first grade, I told my older sister that I was going to graduate high school with her — she’s three years older than me. I started doing high school classes in second grade. Then I saw my sister start dual enrollment. I thought it would be fun, so I followed in her footsteps and enrolled in classes at Valencia College. In May 2020, both my sister and I graduated high school, and now we’re at UCF together.

PIECE OF ADVICE: Check out campus and before signing up for classes. Also, while education is important, there’s more to life than just studying. Try to balance out your personal life with your studies.

WHAT’S NEXT?: Medical school. I’ve always wanted to be a doctor. And now that I’ve had some time to explore the different professions, I decided on becoming a plastic surgeon. I’d also love to stay around the area and be close to family.

A portrait of Mary Franke

Mary Franke ’12 ’17MBA

AGE: 75

MAJOR: Psychology


COURSE MODALITY: I prefer being around the other students and faculty. But since the pandemic, I’ve been primarily taking classes online. And while it’s been great, I’m looking forward to the day I can go back to campus.

WHY UCF: After completing my associate of applied science in paralegal studies from Valencia College, I wanted to finish my bachelor’s degree to complement my work as a paralegal. Several years later, I came back and earned my MBA. Achieving a master’s degree was an opportunity to prove to myself that I could do it. My current program, psychology, is something I’ve been interested in, and I thought, “Why not?”

FAVORITE CLASS AND PROFESSOR: Every time I have a class, I think it’s my favorite — so I’d say I just really like them all. I like learning a little bit about everything.

My favorite professor is someone I never had class with — retired Accounting Professor Marcye Hampton. We just started talking one day, and we became friends.

WHAT’S IT LIKE BEING AN OLDER STUDENT?: I like interacting with younger students — it keeps me young. I enjoy the opportunity to be in study groups with students of all ages and hear their side of things — why they’re going to school and getting a degree in a certain field. I’ve met so many people during my time here.

FUN FACT: My family is full of Knights. My brother went to school when it was Florida Technological University. My daughter has a master’s degree in computer science from UCF, and her husband is also a UCF grad. Hopefully my grandson will become a Knight soon, too.

PIECE OF ADVICE: Appreciate what you’re learning. College is more than just getting through the class to move on to the next thing. Enjoy the journey, and take the time to grasp what you’re taught — and use it through life.

WHAT’S NEXT?: I’m already plotting my next degree. My daughter says to go into the computer field, but I’m not sure about that.