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Clifton Park student named U.S. Presidential Scholar

Wednesday, May 4, 2011
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Schuyler Smith of Clifton Park is one of two New Yorkers named a Presidential Scholar by the U.S. Department of Education.
Photographer: Bruce Squiers
Schuyler Smith of Clifton Park is one of two New Yorkers named a Presidential Scholar by the U.S. Department of Education.

— Schuyler Smith doesn’t look like a youngster in his Union College classes anymore, but when he was 13, he did.

The 18-year-old homeschooler has attended classes at Union since he aced the math portion of the SAT in seventh grade and won a scholarship to the college as a result.

But he didn’t flaunt his knowledge, said mathematics professor William Zwicker, who taught Smith in two higher-level classes. As a 15-year-old, Smith would hang back rather than answer every question and seemed aware that undergraduates might feel upstaged by a gifted high-schooler.

“That showed some maturity, I thought,” Zwicker said.

This week, Smith was named a U.S. Presidential Scholar — a coveted honor bestowed on two senior students from each state who are tops academically, as well as others who excel in the arts.

Smith was one of the 141 students chosen from about 3,000 teens who qualified based on their SAT and ACT scores or arts nominations.

The scholars will be honored in Washington from June 18-21.

The program started in 1964 for academic achievers and grew to include artistic students in 1979.

Each scholar can invite a teacher, and Smith chose Union professor Rebecca Koopmann.

Smith was chosen after getting a perfect 2,400 SAT score as a high-schooler and completing a long application and essays.

Next year he’ll attend Stanford University, majoring in math and computer science. He’ll start out with higher-level classes than the typical freshman, since he’s taken many of the basics already at Union.

He hopes to finish a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in four years.

His parents, Raub and Beth Smith, are both engineers, but his mother said their son’s talent goes far beyond their own.

“He passed me when he was 11,” she said.

She knew their son was gifted when she got a call from his kindergarten teacher saying that he had answered a simple math problem with a wildly complex — and correct — answer involving exponents and subtraction of a four-digit number.

“He was clearly doing high school-level math when he was in preschool,” she said.

Smith left the Shenendehowa schools and became homeschooled in eighth grade after he got the Union scholarship.

“That was the game-changer,” Beth Smith said.

He already was working about four years ahead of his classmates in math and took classes above his grade level in English, social studies and science.

“There are so many kids that are so talented that are so frustrated in school,” Beth Smith said.

Her other two children, Wyatt, 16, and Isaac, 13, also are homeschooled now for the same reason.

In addition to Union classes, Smith also took some online courses and participated in local small groups for literature.

“For the first few years, it was obvious that I was significantly younger,” Smith said of his college classes. “But they respected me because I did well in the classes and I worked with them on projects and things.”

Smith always took on difficult bonus problems in Zwicker’s classes, the professor said.

“He’s very interested and aggressive in doing extra work,” he said.

Smith also excels at other subjects, plays tennis and is interested in photography.

“He’s a very broad guy,” Zwicker said.

In addition to the prestigious Presidential Scholar award, Smith earned a National AP Scholar award, was named a National Merit Scholarship finalist, placed first in North America in the computer science competition CodeCup, qualified for the USA Math Olympiad for five years in a row and placed in the gold division in the USA Computing Olympiad.

He’s also published scientific papers on galaxy clusters and evolutionary robotics, something that’s nearly unheard of for a high school student, his mother said.

 
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