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By Micaela Fouhy, CFCC Foundation Intern

Julia Nepper graduated from Cape Fear Community College (CFCC) in 2008 at the age of fourteen, making her the youngest graduate from CFCC.

Her first course at CFCC was a piano class in spring 2006. “It was the only class I took,” says Nepper. “I was slightly nervous, but I had already been trying piano without instruction for three years at this point so I was mostly excited to be taking the class.”

Since Julia was eleven when she began attending CFCC, her father chaperoned her to every class. “I began to feel self-conscious about always having my father around when I reached the teenage years,” states Nepper. “But, it was never a big deal to me.” Although Julia was home-schooled for most of her early education, she did spend one semester in middle school and another in high school. One thing Julia says she learned at CFCC was how to socialize effectively with college-aged people since she had been interacting primarily with students her own age for most of her life. It certainly helped her when she went to the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW), considering she was no longer required to be accompanied by a parent there and had to adapt by herself.

“I always tell anyone considering college to start their education at a community college,” advises Julia. “Professors teaching a sophomore level course at a university often have two or three hundred students; at a community college they have less than a hundred. Teachers will know your name and care about your success.”

Nepper graduated with honors in 2011 from UNCW with a Bachelor of Arts in chemistry, a Bachelor of Science in biology and a minor in Spanish.

Nepper decided to study biology simply because she liked animals. However, during senior year she realized that while she liked animals, she did not want to be a biologist. “I enjoyed chemistry much more,” explains Nepper. “I knew this because I had to take several chemistry classes to fulfill the requirements to get a biology degree.”

Over that summer, Julia began working with Dr. Antje Almeida in her lab. Dr. Almeida is a professor in the chemistry department at UNCW and most of her research is in biophysics relating to nature. “That was how I became interested in biophysics–by accident,” states Julia. “I didn’t even know the field existed before that year.”

Currently, at seventeen years old Julia is participating in the one year Post-Baccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP) at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill (UNC). She works in a research lab on campus full-time and is also taking a graduate class, Advanced Biochemistry of Human Disease.

Julia finds biophysics appealing because “the questions that are asked are relevant to human health, but the answers that you get are much more quantitative than those you get in other fields, so it is easier to draw definite conclusions from the data.”

Julia is applying to graduate programs in biophysics and if accepted she will most likely go to the University of Wisconsin-Madison to pursue her Ph.D. After that she intends to travel. “I plan to visit as many countries I can afford, on every continent except Antarctica.”

After finishing her Ph.D. program, Nepper hopes to become a professor of chemistry at a smaller university, similar to UNCW, and running her own lab. “What I liked about UNCW was that there was a research presence, but it wasn’t the main focus as it is at UNC,” states Julia.

Julia says her favorite quote is “learn the rules so you know how to break them properly” by the Dalai Lama XIV. Julia has found that most rules are “superfluous for sensible people,” therefore she tries to break them without getting caught. “It adds a bit of excitement,” she says. Although Julia didn’t break any rules while being the youngest graduate from Cape Fear Community College, it should definitely be considered a high achievement.

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