Meet Cornell University’s 12-year-old Student: Jeremy Shuler

9 Sep

Above: Jeremy Shuler at Cornell University in Ithaca. Photograph: Mike Groll/AP

Above: Jeremy Shuler at Cornell University in Ithaca. Photograph: Mike Groll/AP

A 12-year-old boy just started with engineering classes at Cornell University this September. He is their youngest ever student and his name is Jeremy Shuler.

His story has been extensively covered because it is astonishing to most of us. But, his parents, Andy and Harrey Jeong Shuler, recognized his unusual brilliance at an early age. Since Jeremy was an infant, he has been crossing developmental milestones at a rate way above normal.

At the age of two, when most toddlers are barely able to point out familiar images in picture books and speak two to three sentences, Jeremy was reading. And that too in both English and Korean. Soon, as his father Andy told The Washington Post, the parents realized that “This is going to be different.”

By the age of five, Jeremy was doing pre-calculus, reading The Lord of the Rings and other books from his mother’s collection. Andy and Harrey realized it did not make sense to enroll a boy of his gifts in a regular school. The only choice left was to homeschool him – a task for which his parents were strangely well equipped.Both Andy and Harrey have doctorates in aerospace engineering from the University of Texas. Harrey felt confident that she could teach maths and science at high school level. Jeremy also proved to be an ideal student – curious, dedicated and intelligent. He devoured everything – from encyclopaedias to text books.

One of the challenges of homeschooling a boy like Jeremy was making sure he did not grow up an isolated genius. Thankfully, Jeremy doesn’t fit into this image either. Andy told The Washington Post, “He loves people. He will go up and talk to anyone.” So they encouraged him to try different activities. The maths circle turned out to be Jeremy’s favourite. He could meet people who shared his aptitudes and interests even if they were older.

At the age of ten, Jeremy took the SAT. The Washington Post reported that in maths, physics and chemistry, his scores were in the 800s. In world history and Latin, he scored in the 750s. This was better than 99.6% of the test takers that year! In Advanced Placement tests, his high scores earned him the College Board’s ‘Scholar with Distinction’ recognition.

Since Jeremy was still too young to enroll in college, his parents started looking for options. Andy’s job with Lockheed Martin involves traveling, so it was key that Jeremy’s education program be flexible. They found one in Texas Tech University Independent School District – an accredited school where students can choose what they learn, and how. Jeremy told Texas Tech Today that the program allowed him to travel with his family without worrying about coursework, and at the same time, instilled in him virtues of self-discipline and time management. It helped him become a well-rounded individual. The highlight, for Jeremy, was graduation. He told The Washington Post – “It was cool seeing all of the other students graduating alongside me and meeting all of the TTUISD people.”

Next was college. Jeremy went through the regular applications process and Cornell emerged as the best option. Andy had graduated from Cornell and his father is still a Professor there. The university was willing to give the adolescent genius a chance and Jeremy is now a member of the Cornell Class of 2020.

At Cornell, Jeremy has chosen to major in applied and engineering physics, with a minor in maths. He says he is beginning to enjoy his classes at Cornell. He told the media, “The classes are pretty easy so far, but I know they’ll be harder pretty soon.” Although he is the youngest student in the university, he is adapting, “I’m used to having older friends. As long as they like math.”

But that’s one aspect of college life. The other is making friends. This is perhaps why college will be most important. While Jeremy may be extraordinarily talented, he is also a twelve-year-old boy who reportedly loves fishing, horse riding, Divergent, and The Diary of a Wimpy Kid. He will not be living the normal undergraduate life. Naturally, his parents are concerned. Andy told the media, “I know it’s the right choice, it’s the only way he can be challenged and grow. But I still have my worries. He’s not going to have the normal college experience — all the good and bad and change that can come with that — but I think he can make some friends, be part of a study group, be part of the community.”

Jeremy is enthusiastic about the college experience. He plans a career as an academic. Harrey told the media that Jeremy’s dream “is to become a mathematician and solve great questions that have remained unsolved through history.”

If he stays on track, we are sure Jeremy can achieve all this and much, much more.

Fascinated by child prodigies? Here’s a video of the extraordinary Diki Suryaatmadja, a 12-year-old from Indonesia, who will be starting his first semester at the University of Waterloo.

By Skendha Singh

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