Meet Austin’s whiz kids

Published 6:52 am Friday, May 14, 2010

Clyde Carver and Xiaoshan Chai kept their heads in their books Thursday morning, busily studying as many students do this time of year. However, the test the two were preparing for was quite different than those of their peers.

Carver, 12, and Xiaoshan, 15, took an exam Thursday afternoon to test into a University of Minnesota calculus course. It’s the next step for the Ellis Middle School eighth-grader and Austin High School freshman, respectively, who just completed two years — or the equivalent of four years of high school math — through the University of Minnesota Talented Youth Mathematics Program (UMTYMP).

Ellis math teacher Eric Harder said the two have gone farther in the program than any students the district has sent in recent years.

Email newsletter signup

“It’s a tremendous commitment,” Harder said Thursday. “I’m very, very impressed with them.”

The two have traveled to the university’s Rochester campus once a week for classes for the past two school years, completing two algebra courses, geometry and pre-calculus.

Each two-hour UMTYMP class covers the equivalent of about three weeks of regular high school mathematics content, according to the University of Minnesota.

“My favorite class has actually always been social studies,” Carver said. “I’m just good at math. It comes easy.”

Many courses have come easy to Carver, prompting him to skip both kindergarten and sixth-grade.

“I wish all my classes were challenging, otherwise it gets boring,” he said.

In addition to the high school-level math, Carver takes honors language arts, integrated physics and technology and has tested out of economics this term. He also stays busy with football, basketball and tennis.

Chai is busy when she’s not studying too. She plays volleyball, ping-pong and the violin. Like Carver, she also takes other advanced classes, including advanced placement science.

“I really like science and math,” she said. “In math, you don’t just do problems, you also figure out methods. It’s the same for science, plus science is just really cool.”

Chai, whose father is a Hormel Institute researcher, said that when she needs help with her math homework, she can usually turn to her dad or AHS math teachers.

Carver is able to get most of the help he needs during a free period spent with Harder.

Harder, who said the last time he took calculus was during the mid-1980s, has been learning much of the material alongside his student.

“There’s been a lot of things I had to brush up on,” he said. “I might have learned as much as they did during this time.”

Carver said much of what Harder has taught him has been outside of the math curriculum.

“He teaches me, but not my math,” Carver explained. “He helps me develop problem-solving skills and learn to teach myself.

When Chai was at the middle school, she appreciated those lessons from Harder too.

It was a middle school teacher who first sparked her interest in math, a year earlier.

“My seventh-grade teacher, back in China, was the best,” she said. “She was so much fun, and she made math so much fun. I loved it.”

If Carver and Chai are accepted and choose to enroll in the calculus component of UMTYMP, they will be able to complete up to 16 semester credits of honors-level college calculus.

The time-consuming courses aren’t for everybody though.

Carver is taking the entrance exam to see whether he qualifies, but said he’s yet to decide whether he wants to take on that type of commitment while transitioning into high school.

“I might not want to miss as many things as I do now,” he said, noting that he has skipped extra-curricular and sports events to remain dedicated to the math program.

“It’s been worth it so far,” he added. “I just want to make sure I’ll have some time to chill.”

One goal of the program, according to the University of Minnesota, is to retain top students within the state when they graduate from high school, though UMTYMP students are highly recruited by top universities across the country.

Chai, who is set on becoming a mechanical engineer, said she’d love to go to college in New York.

Carver could be among the 40 percent of former UMTYMP students who go on to enroll in the University of Minnesota.

He said he is thinking about becoming a lawyer and heard the university has a great program.

“I could change my mind though…I guess I’m still kind of young.”

The Hormel Foundation co-sponsors the tuition and travel expenses of Carver and Chai.

For more information about UMTYMP, go to