Posted Feb. 16, 2021 — Salenah Cartier’s love of learning started young. She began reading at age 2 and could solve algebraic equations by age 4.
“I am always looking for new ways to feed my curiosity and expand my knowledge on topics,” Cartier said. “Everything I do, I take it as a learning opportunity, whether it’s just my day-to-day activity or actual formal education.”
Although loved ones supported her academic milestones, Cartier said her peers bullied her.
“I was bitten, stabbed and had bones broken,” she told the Houston Chronicle.
She purposefully underperformed in fifth grade to avoid standing out and later left the toxic environment for homeschooling.
Then, her passion for education returned. At 14, Cartier earned a high school diploma and an associate degree through dual credit classes at Lone Star College-Kingwood. At 17, she became the youngest graduate in the University of Houston’s class of 2020, earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a certificate in corporate entrepreneurship from C.T. Bauer College of Business.
Cartier is now a graduate student in the College of Education’s curriculum and instruction master’s program. She wants to create a system where education is personalized and all students have the opportunity to reach their maximum potential.
“I hope to inspire younger students that come from backgrounds similar to mine,” she said. “Anything is possible, and your current situation doesn’t define where you’ll go in life.”
Cartier knows tough times. In 2017, Hurricane Harvey left her family in financial ruin. She wasn’t sure she could afford college tuition, but Cartier isn’t one to give up. She bought used books online and in thrift stories to sell at higher prices. She also worked as a tutor and found she enjoyed teaching, helping raise a student’s test score from 65 to 95 over the course of five sessions.
With the support of family and friends, Cartier graduated from UH in December to unexpected fanfare, drawing headlines around the country and getting to meet Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, a fellow Coog, at City Hall.
“Salenah’s future is bright and I wish her the best,” Turner posted on Twitter with a photo of the two in masks. She wore a red stole and held a glittery graduation cap that read, “17 with two degrees!”
One of her role models, astronaut Victor J. Glover Jr., not only tweeted about her “tremendous resilience” but called her from space.
Bob McPherson, dean of the UH College of Education, said, “Salenah Cartier’s persistence and passion are an inspiration to future students.”
Cartier, taking five classes this semester, has found a particular interest in Instructional Technology and Society. “It really serves the purpose of my goals, creating a curriculum that promotes the growth of all learners regardless of their backgrounds and obstacles,” she said.
She urges younger students to take risks and invest in education, whether it’s a university, trade school or certificate program.
“I always say give college a chance,” she said. “It gave me that confidence, that push. It’s much more than academics. You learn so much about yourself in that time.”
A lifelong learner, Cartier plans to pursue a doctoral degree in the field of cognitive and developmental neuroscience. She wants to research the impact that early life exposure to adversity has on cognitive development.
— By Lillian Hoang
— Photo courtesy of Salenah Cartier