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The Underage Prepa, Part Two: Miss Software, Joelys

What’s it like to be enrolled at a university at an age when most of your friends are just getting their learner’s permit? As for Joelys Ruiz, she’s adapted like a fish to water. The seventeen-year-old prepa is one of the first students ever to be enrolled in UPRM’s newly-minted Software Engineering program, INSO, which she was admitted to through early admission. She graduated from Luis Felipe Crespo School in Camuy at sixteen years old, relieved to be free from the slow movement the school system had. Ever since she was three years old, Joelys was already ahead of the flock. At this age she was taken out of Pre-K because she already knew the materials that were supposed to be taught at the moment, a move that marked the beginning of a presently-deemed brilliant academic career.

“In reality I wasn’t learning anything and I felt prepared to be in University, so I decided to take the step,” and so Joelys strutted into Colegio, where she stands out for her academics as well as her striking silver hair. She admitted, smiling meekly, that her high school experience was “boring” and that it didn’t satisfy her desire for knowledge. This is why she doesn’t regret enrolling at such a young age. “It’s tough but I’m doing it.

As she came face-to-face with the reality of being underage in a world full of adults starting their career, Joelys discovered that her age is often an asset: for one, companies often show great interest in her. “They’re impressed I started studying at sixteen,” a fact she takes great pride in. As for the cons, Joelys mentioned that the lack of freedom she has compared to her classmates of age is “like a slap in the face.” On top of this, she’s become no stranger to people’s backhanded compliments and underestimations, the most common one being “you’re just a girl, what are you doing here?” “That sucks because I know I have the capacity.” In her short time at Colegio she has certainly proven herself by becoming an active member of one of the most respected, internationally renowned society, the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) and its Scholars program, which prepares these students to be the next leaders of the association and within their field.

In her early school years as an self-proclaimed outcast, Joelys discovered just how much she wanted to meet her goals to prove her adversaries all wrong. Even though she never valued good grades over actual achieved knowledge, she managed to get ahead of the curb and get to an academically envious position. “I cared more about learning,” she says with conviction.

At this point Joelys is, in her own words, in a phase where she is discovering what she likes and she doesn’t.” Evidently, the products of this phase have been some of the reasons behind her academic accomplishments. These are mainly to prove herself to the people who doubted her abilities and, most importantly, to prove to herself that she’s capable of great things as well as to help other people in any way she can. The latter is a personal work value for Joelys, as she hopes her future professional step will be blessed with a stimulating environment where she can expand her knowledge and, above all, where she would be able to help others. As for the long term, she’s “always considered” building her own company, as well of continuing towards a PhD.

“I tend to downplay my achievements,” Joelys admits, a defense mechanism she blames on her fear of judgmental comments and a consequence of the long years of bullying she faced.  Nevertheless, her accomplishments are worth sharing: she had the highest College Board test score in her school and won third place in the Camuy regional Math Olympics. What fueled her then, and still does to this day, is her desire to keep learning and to get involved in things that according to others, she was too young to care for. Evidently, she’s fought hard to prove herself because of her age all her life. Joelys chuckles at the irony of finding some of her past bullies impressed by how far so quickly she has gotten, with a smile that hides how proud she actually is.

“Many in my family and my teachers told me that I wouldn’t be able to do anything. A lot of people back then, and even now, have tried to step on me and try to stop me from overcoming myself but I’m not letting them. The important thing is to always have confidence in yourself. Yo voy por mí.”

Author of "Partida en Dos," a self-published poetry book, and also published writer featured in magazines such as Sábanas, El Vicio del Tintero, Emily, and the Anthology of the Revolutionary Alliance. Bachelor student of English Literature and minors in Comparative Literature and Teacher Preparation. Born and raised in the West of Puerto Rico, artist, dancer, tree-hugger and animal rights activist. 
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