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The Girl In The Big, Gray Coat: Lessons I Learned From A 16-Year-Old Sophomore

The last text I received from Taylor Guelich before meeting her in Waring Commons read, “Okay sweet! I’ll be in a big gray coat with a huge hood haha.” I have to admit, I was a little disheartened. It was dinner time in West Halls, which means there would surely be hoards of young women sporting the same knee-length winter jacket as she was. Couldn’t she be more descriptive?

If you’re a 16-year-old sophomore in college, you must have some more distinguishing features.

I continued my walk to our meeting place and contemplated the possibilities. Guelich would be wearing a big, gray coat, but maybe she’d be carrying rolls of blueprints she was working on in one of her architectural engineering classes. Yes, she’d be wearing a big, grey coat, but maybe she’d also be wearing large, thick-framed glasses. I was expecting to meet a child prodigy, a super genius in a lab coat, but the girl I found standing in Waring Commons was someone much different than I anticipated.

I watched Guelich look up at me as I walked into the room. She wasn’t carrying any blueprints, and she wasn’t wearing glasses with tape in the middle. There was no lab coat, no ballpoint pen tucked behind her ear. She was so…normal.

She greeted me with a smile and a bright “Hello!” further shattering my preconceived notion I was meeting Dexter from Dexter’s Laboratory. We exchanged a few words and found a quiet place to sit, and she began to regale me with the story of her early years at Philipsburg-Osceola Area School District, just 30 minutes away from State College.

“When I was a child, my teachers and my families noticed that I was accelerated, that I was gifted,” Guelich said. “My mom had me tested and we found out that I was eligible to skip grades. I skipped kindergarten, fourth grade, and sixth grade.”

She recalled that as she got older, she gained a better understanding of why she was skipping grades. “When I was younger, I just went with the flow, but as I got older, I knew I wanted to skip. I was looking forward to being more stimulated.”

Once Guelich finally began to feel more challenged, she grabbed that feeling and never let go. At age 14, she co-piloted her first plane, a Piper Archer, which sparked her interest in flying. At age 15, when she was a senior in high school, she finally made the choice to come to Penn State.

“My family has always been a really big Penn State family,” Guelich said proudly. “My parents both graduated from Penn State, my grandpa works in the housing department here, and I live so close, too. I’ve always wanted to go to Penn State, so it wasn’t a hard decision.” Guelich commuted to Penn State for the entirety of her freshman year, thanks to the help of her grandfather, who drove her to school every day.

“My grandfather’s been a huge support, my whole family. It was bittersweet for them, sending off their oldest child to college earlier than normal. Even at a normal age it’s hard for parents to let go couldn’t go, but they’re definitely grateful that I’m able to do what I’m doing and that I’ve had so may opportunities so far…I couldn’t have done it without them,” Guelich recalled.

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16-year old Taylor Guelich in her West Halls dorm room.

Guelich spent her first year at Penn State as an aerospace engineering major, but switched to architectural engineering once she realized she had more interest in design. Despite being three years younger than most of her peers, she quickly made new friends. “I don’t go out much, just because it’s a personal decision. I’m just not into that scene,” she said. “I really clicked with the architectural engineering kids, though, I have a lot of friends who are also in my major.”

Guelich is currently living on campus with a friend she met in one of her classes last year. When I asked Guelich how her roommate reacted to finding out that she was only 16, she shrugged. “She knew me personally before she knew my age, so it was a shock.” Guelich looked at me nonchalantly, but continued with such clarity that I began to realize what was wrong with the way I had perceived her. “My roommate knew me as Taylor, not as ‘this girl who’s only 16 years old.'”

Guelich is clearly an incredibly gifted girl. She rattled off a long list of accomplishments and used a lot of words that I didn’t understand. I was definitely impressed with the 16-year-old sophomore, but I discovered I was more impressed by just Taylor. I was impressed by her humility, her maturity, and her relaxed nature. I was even impressed by her big, gray coat. I was lucky to be sitting across from this exceptionally bright Penn State student, whether she was 16 or 60.

I transitioned myself into this mindset, and listened to her as she continued on. “I’m very proud of where I am, but I don’t like when other people judge me because of it.”

Despite the pride she has in her achievements, Guelich often runs into situations where her age puts her at a disadvantage. “I’m really into running, and I’m on the club track and field team. Because I’m physically younger, I usually have to push myself harder to compete. It allows me to excel though.”

Guelich also shared her experience with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (L.E.E.D.), a program that would certify her as a “green associate” and allow her to officially recognize buildings as environmentally efficient. After paying for and completing the course, Guelich realized she couldn’t take the certification test because she wasn’t 18 yet. “It was a real bummer, but I have all of my notes from the course, so when I finally turn 18, I can just take the test!”

It’s Guelich’s positive attitude that has gotten her where she is, and as time goes on, her list of accomplishments will only get longer. Aside from being an active member of the College of Engineering’s Society of Women Engineers and the Student Society of Architectual Engineers. Taylor has secured an internship with the Office of the Physical Plant, working on project management for athletic facilities. “If there’s a renovation being done to the BJC or anything like that, I’ll be making requests for contracts or budgeting,” she explained.

While Guelich is fully submerged into intellectual life at Penn State, she is still unsure of what the future holds for her. “I got to go through all four years of high school, I went to prom, and I had a lot of fun. After I graduate though, I’ll have more time to than most people do. Travelling would be cool, but I don’t know yet,” she admitted. “I’m still young and I have so much ahead of me.”

I left my interview with Guelich feeling refreshed. Her modesty despite having so much to boast about was not only surprising, but it was inspiring. Guelich will graduate from Penn State with a master’s degree at age 20. After five years of hard work, she’ll trade in her big, gray coat for a cap and gown. When she walks across that stage and gets her diploma, I hope she remembers the words of advice that she gave me three years prior: “Don’t let anyone put you down, and use the talents and gifts that God has given you. Be who you are, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”

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About the Author

Gabriela Stevenson

Gabriela is a senior majoring in print and digital journalism and Onward State's student life editor. She is from Norristown, PA, which she normally refers to as "30 minutes outside of Philadelphia" (she looked up the exact driving time). She enjoys Broadway musicals, neck pillows, and eating cereal at night. To contact Gabriela, e-mail her at [email protected]wardstate.com, or follow her on Twitter @GabiStevenson if you want to feel young again.

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