Parents' sacrifice spurs Lincolnshire teen's success

 
 
Updated 2/4/2017 1:03 PM
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  • Andrew Hwang, a junior at Stevenson High School, finished third in the 2017 national "Who Wants to be a Mathematician" contest. He credits his parents' sacrifice for his success in multiple academic fields.

      Andrew Hwang, a junior at Stevenson High School, finished third in the 2017 national "Who Wants to be a Mathematician" contest. He credits his parents' sacrifice for his success in multiple academic fields. Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • Andrew Hwang, 16, credits his immigrant parents' lessons and sacrifices with propelling him to excel. He is a junior at Stevenson High School.

      Andrew Hwang, 16, credits his immigrant parents' lessons and sacrifices with propelling him to excel. He is a junior at Stevenson High School. Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • Andrew Hwang of Lincolnshire finished third in a national math contest, but also is dedicated to clubs like debate and Model UN.

      Andrew Hwang of Lincolnshire finished third in a national math contest, but also is dedicated to clubs like debate and Model UN. Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • The award won by Junior Andrew Hwang of Stevenson High School who finished third in the 2017 national "Who Wants to be a Mathematician" contest.

      The award won by Junior Andrew Hwang of Stevenson High School who finished third in the 2017 national "Who Wants to be a Mathematician" contest. Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

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."

Andrew Hwang, 16, with the award he won when he finished third in the 2017 national "Who Wants to be a Mathematician" contest last month. About 2,300 students competed.
  Andrew Hwang, 16, with the award he won when he finished third in the 2017 national "Who Wants to be a Mathematician" contest last month. About 2,300 students competed. - Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

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?

Andrew Hwang of Lincolnshire plans to continue studying math, but might also seek elected office some day.
Andrew Hwang of Lincolnshire plans to continue studying math, but might also seek elected office some day. - courtesy of Andrew Hwang

"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."

• If you know of a young person whose story wows you, please send a note including name, town, email and phone contacts for you and the nominee to standouts@dailyherald.com.

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