Teen grad students excel in academics
By Matt Kelly
lives are normal to them. For U.Va.s teenage graduate students,
a masters degree is simply the next step in accelerated
are currently four teen-age graduate students, the most the University
has had in at least five years, and each came for individual reasons.
started high school when I was 11, so it would probably feel abnormal
for me to be at the same level as my 19-year-old peers,
said Monique E. Okumakpeyi. A full-time staff auditor for Ernst
& Young in New York City, she is enrolled in the McIntire
School of Commerces summer masters program.
went to college at 13, said Isabelle L. Stanton, 17-year-old
teaching assistant in the Department of Mathematics. This
is not something I notice so much.
R. Smith, 14, also a graduate student in math, received a wave
of publicity this summer when he enrolled. Smith, who is pursuing
a Ph.D. in mathematics, has been making headlines as an academic
prodigy and international childrens rights activist much
of his life.
we have been on an accelerated academic pace our entire educational
journey, attending graduate school seems very natural to us,
Smith said about young learners. And
they all love their work.
is something I can do well that makes sense in my head,
Stanton said. I enjoy the logic of it.
can spend 12 to 14 hours in a lab and still be reluctant to leave
at the end of the day, said Jennifer K. Wolf, 19, who researches
infectious diseases on a molecular level. She entered U.Va. at
16 as a third-year transfer student and, at 17, was the Universitys
youngest Harrison Undergraduate Research Award recipient.
has also set the youngest benchmark for the McIntires summer
do know that I am blessed to have reached this level of education
at my age and have such a wonderful job, Okumakpeyi said.
too, feels blessed because she was able to find her path in life
While blessed, they still work hard.
automatically assume that Im smart or a genius
for having achieved so much academically at my age, Okumakpeyi
said. I struggle just like every other student.
grades, she said, were expected, not rewarded, in her Brooklyn,
Wolf also resents the genius label, saying she has worked hard
for what she has gotten. Wolfs mother, who taught college-level
English, exposed her to academia early. In the fall of 1998, Wolf
entered Mary Baldwin Colleges Program for the Exceptionally
Gifted, which also boasts Stanton among its alumnae.
did not advertise her age when she went to college.
just assumed I was a normal college age, she said. I
let people assume whatever they would assume.
Dove-Viebahn, 20, another Mary Baldwin alumna who received a masters
degree in art history from U.Va. last spring, had few age concerns,
except when fellow graduate students selected where to socialize,
since she was too young to go to bars.
dont believe Ive ever had a truly negative response
from someone upon finding out that Im so young, Dove-Viebahn
said. I never felt it necessary to seek friends my
own age because none of the other graduate students
in the art history program and friends from other departments
seemed to mind that I was younger.
said he has always been able to work with a wide range of ages.
can be helpful. Skipping high school, Wolf said, spared her four
years of boredom.
do think its an opportunity more students should be offered,
Wolf said. There is a real societal perception that it is
a bad thing for students to go to such high education at such
an early age, but I think it depends on the person. Some people
are ready for it before others, and some people are never ready.
young, the students are blending in well.
you dont look very closely, you dont know theyre
here, Jeffrey J. Holt, associate professor of math, said
of Smith and Stanton. And I think thats a good thing
because then they are not scrutinized differently.
who is teaching the fourth-hour discussion section of calculus,
and Smith are the first mathematics graduate students under 20
years old, said Donald E. Ramirez, associate chairman of mathematics
and advanced calculus teacher.
publicity surrounding Smiths enrollment has been positive
for the department, Ramirez said.
shows we have a good department that attracts gifted students,
wider University also benefits from younger graduate students.
students are vitally important to our research enterprise,
said R. Ariel Gomez, vice president for research and graduate
studies. They look at problems in new ways, bring
fresh thinking and provide a tremendous amount of work.
thinks students should follow their own vision and the rest of
it will fall into place.
the same story as with anything else, Wolf said. If
you truly are who you are, some people are going to love you and
some people are going to hate you. And how much does it really
matter how much those people who dont like you really think?
As long as youre doing what you love to do, it doesnt