Parents' sacrifice spurs Lincolnshire teen's success
The sacrifices of his South Korean immigrant parents have informed Andrew Hwang's perspective on the world, turning him into a well-rounded, exceptional student who's determined to do good for others.
Andrew, a 16-year-old junior at Stevenson High School, placed third in the national "Who Wants to Be a Mathematician" contest last month in Atlanta. About 2,300 students took part in the competition. Andrew won $1,000 for himself and $1,000 for his school's math department.
Simply put, Andrew stands among the most mathematically talented young people in the country, said contest judge and co-creator Bill Butterworth, associate chair of the math department at DePaul University in Chicago.
"It's not unusual to see these players make a room full of mathematicians shake their heads in disbelief at how quick and talented they are during the competition," Butterworth said.
Andrew carries a 4.0 unweighted GPA, mentors freshmen in math and competes with the varsity gymnastics team at Stevenson. He excels in several school clubs, including debate, Model U.N. and youth government.
He credits his parents with teaching him the value of education, and his high school experience with fostering his love for history, civics and public speaking.
"The current education system is not the best-off in terms of students who want to further their education outside the common core curriculum in ways that have more application to jobs. Real hands-on activities are important," Andrew said. "I am lucky enough to go to Stevenson, but people in Chicago don't have the same opportunity."
His parents, Eunjoon and Sae Hwang, always supported him, he said. One example? Andrew's flight for the math competition in Atlanta was canceled, so he and his parents drove from Chicago, arriving after 1 a.m. the morning of the event.
"They gave up a lot for me to pursue my education. They made sacrifices. I think that, in and of itself, inspires me to work hard and do that best I can."
Both college-educated, Andrew's parents emigrated from South Korea to Texas and raised their two children while working grocery store jobs and dealing with a language barrier. And there were episodes of racism in Texas, Andrew said, recounting instances of being called racial slurs while walking down the street as a little boy.
"Coming here was an eye-opening experience. There is a lot more acceptance here," he said of moving to Illinois in the third grade. "At the same time, there is also lack of knowledge and lack of experience (with Asian-Americans)."
His father now works in IT while his mother is a former web programmer. His older brother, Peter, is a junior at Yale University.
Andrew goes to great lengths to perform well in Model U.N. Club, said Stevenson social studies teacher Andrew Conneen.
For example, he turned a simple project into a sophisticated historical simulation by directing students to research and play roles to recreate the Council of Nicea, a significant event in the history of Christianity.
"This really speaks to the level of detail that Andrew is willing to go to based on his leadership and strong work ethic," said Conneen, who has appeared on the TV network C-SPAN to talk about high school advanced placement government exams.
So how does one student develop a passion for such different fields?
"Math is much more of a definitive science than a political science, and I found some solace in the objectivity of numbers itself," Andrew said. "A lot of times people don't think they are related, but I want to pursue modeling and apply real mathematics to real world problems, whether they are economic or political."
Andrew wants to give part of his $1,000 winnings to the PROMYS program held at Boston University, in which he participated last summer. The program selects students "who are unusually ready to think deeply about mathematics," said the organization's director of outreach, Julia Rolnick.
She calls Andrew "smart, energetic, and creative."
"He worked hard at PROMYS to overcome the many mathematical challenges the program offers. And he seemed to truly enjoy the process," she said. "His performance only got stronger as the program got more difficult near the end."
As much as he loves math, Andrew said he doesn't exclude running for office some day. He did some phone banking for Democratic U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders during the presidential primary and considers Democrat U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth a role model for Asian-Americans.
"I just want to end up at a point in time, when I am older, to be able to say I've made an impact on my community," he said. "I want to see some education improvement and help out the Asian-American community as a whole."
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Andrew HwangAndrew Hwang
School: Adlai E. Stevenson High School
Who inspires you? My parents. They are incredibly hard workers, they gave up a lot for me to pursue my education.
What book are you reading? "The Art of Fielding" by Chad Harbach
What music are you listening to? I listen to anything and everything, I just turn on the radio.
The three words that best describe you? Hard worker. Happy. Willing to try new things.