Living in residence while starting university classes just three months after his 16th birthday won't mean instant freedom for Yifan Huang. Not with his father as a roommate.
And the shy mathematics genius will have to study hard, promises his father Quentin, who moved with Yifan from Singapore when the boy was still in school. They eventually settled in Port Alberni. Now Quentin will look after his son on campus as the youth begins studies at SFU this fall.
The elder Huang says coming to Canada was a positive step as his son marches up the academic ladder with lightning speed. “Sometimes,” contends his father, “parents make sacrifices.”
The walls of their small campus apartment are neatly decorated with the 28 academic awards from provincial, national and international math competitions won by Yifan over the years. “I knew there was something special in him. Yifan has always been a top math student in his classes,” says Quentin, who taught the boy to recognize the alphabet when he was only five months old by placing large letters on the walls around their house. “He has saved three years of schooling because of it, and, though he is still young, he is ready academically for the challenge of university.”
Yifan was born in China. His father, who has sole custody of his son, was a lecturer at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology, where his research focused on improving ship form. They later moved to Sweden and then Singapore, where Quentin was a naval architect and engineer-in-charge of SembCorp Marine Ltd., one of the largest shipyards in South East Asia.
Yifan easily rose as a top math student in primary school in Singapore. He started high school with top mark ranks, then the pair moved to Canada, where his father became design manager and naval architect for Alberni Engineering Ltd., part of the Nanaimo Shipyard Group, which repairs and builds new vessels.
Yifan completed three years of the junior secondary program in only one year while at A.W. Neill middle school, emerging again as the top math student. He completed his education at Alberni District secondary as the top student in math and physics, with an average grade of 94 per cent.“Yifan's drive, Canada's education system and the teachers and counsellors have all played a part in his acceleration,” notes his father, taking little credit for helping his son with difficult math and physics problems.
Yifan secured scholarships from SFU, UBC and the University of Victoria, but SFU was the only university to bend its residency rules and allow his father to live in residence with him. “Yifan is still a boy who needs to be in my care,” says Quentin, who hopes to start his own consulting company. “We are indebted to SFU for providing this opportunity.”
Besides sharing cooking and cleaning duties, Yifan concedes he will keep his nose to the grindstone - now that school is beginning. “The other night he took the key for the computer from under my pillow and stayed up and played computer games all night,” complained his father. “He got in a little trouble for that."
“Yifan has never had to do much with studying, but he knows that his approach while at university will have to be different.”
Despite his age difference with classmates, Yifan doesn't seem fazed by the challenge. His goal is to become a doctor. “I am ready,” he says. “I think it'll be all right.”
While the two have lived in various countries Quentin says Canada “is the best and most ideal place to live and for children to grow up.” The pair expect to become Canadian citizens in a few weeks.
Website: SFU Mathematics: www.math.sfu.ca