After Starting at UML at the Age of 14, Student to Graduate in Three Years
By Karen Angelo
Veronica Maksymenko doesn’t think she’s smarter than anyone else. The Lowell native says that she just “picks up on things quickly.”
So quickly that she began taking college courses when she was 13. In the fall of 2020, at the age of 14, Maksymenko started at UML as an exercise science major, a step toward her goal of becoming a physical therapist.
Thanks to 26 college credits she earned before coming to UML, Maksymenko is on track to earn her bachelor’s degree in just three years. When she dons her graduation regalia next May, she’ll be 17 years old.
“I feel that I fit right in at UMass Lowell, and age isn’t a factor,” she says. “My courses are challenging, and I’ve made so many friends.”
Maksymenko says her early education has been “unconventional” — a mix of home and classroom learning and online courses.
“In elementary school, I found the pace of learning too slow,” says Maksymenko. “My mom and I decided that I would take online classes.”
She completed sixth and seventh grade in one year. At age 13, she took in-person dual enrollment classes at Middlesex Community College, North Shore Community College and Gordon College.
“I was 13 years old, attending classes and lectures in person, but no one commented on my age,” says Maksymenko.
Her decision to attend UMass Lowell was an easy one, she says.
“UMass Lowell was the most convenient option. It was very close to where I lived, it was more affordable than other schools and it offered a great program for what I wanted to do,” she says.
So, when other teens her age were learning to navigate high school, Maksymenko was settling in as a first-year River Hawk.
Her UMass Lowell classmates didn’t realize she was barely old enough to get a part-time job when they met her.
“When I found out how old she was, I didn’t believe her at first,” says exercise science major Tohrin Holmes.
Elizabeth Gacek, a nutritional sciences senior who met Maksymenko last fall, found her confident and mature.
“Veronica fits right in with us,” says Gacek. “I was shocked to find out how much younger she was.”
Maksymenko says that her age has never limited her relationships. “My friends and I joke about me being a baby and how I couldn’t legally drive until the end of my junior year of college,” she says. “I have amazing friends and a class at UML that have made me feel so welcome.”
She began at UML during the pandemic, taking all virtual classes. Despite some initial trepidation, the timing turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
“When I started college, I was scared that I wouldn’t live the true college experience,” Maksymenko says. “I could not have been more wrong. In my first year, I cultivated new friendships, joined the Exercise Science Club and grew increasingly excited for the following in-person year.”
During her second year, Maksymenko connected with more students as she immersed herself in her coursework and forged bonds with the faculty.
“Veronica is attentive, well-rounded and a pleasure to have in my classes,” says Assoc. Prof. Winnie Wu of the Department of Physical Therapy and Kinesiology, who advises Maksymenko.
“The classes have been anything but easy,” says Maksymenko, who commutes about five minutes from her home in Lowell to the university.
“I enjoy the challenge and find it extremely gratifying to see how I have grown as a student throughout my time at UML.”
Despite the demands of her courses, Maksymenko also competes as a dancer, a passion she’s pursued since she was 5. After an Achilles injury, she got help from a physical therapist. That’s when she knew physical therapy was the career for her.
“My physical therapists didn’t tell me to sit on the couch for six weeks or to stop dancing,” she says. “Rather, they made me stronger. For the first time, I truly felt I had rehabilitated from an injury instead of putting a Band-Aid over it. I knew I wanted to give other people the same empowered feeling I had.”
Now in her senior year, she’s preparing for her spring clinical practicum and then graduation. Next up is for her is the UML Doctor of Physical Therapy program. She’ll be just 17 years old when classes begin next summer.
Reflecting on her accomplishments, Maksymenko credits a number of factors for her success. “I think it’s a combination of things,” she says. “I absorb material quickly, and it’s cultural as well. My mom immigrated from Ukraine and encouraged me to take advantage of all opportunities. And UML challenges me and allows me to grow as a student.”