LAS VEGAS (AP) — Dr. Ming-Wei Wu drives his son and daughter to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and escorts them to and from classes.
Most college students would find that arrangement unusual and restrictive.
But Wu’s children — 12-year-old Shenlone Wu and 13-year-old Shenmei Wu — are both full-time students at UNLV.
The goal isn’t to earn a college degree at a young age, Wu told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. They’ll apply to college at the same time as their peers when it’s age-appropriate.
“They’re doing this just to challenge themselves,” he said.
Shenlone and Shenmei each have an IQ above 140, which is considered genius or near-genius level.
“I don’t tell people how old I am, but once they find out, they kinda look at me as a kid,” Shenlone wrote in a recent (Thursday Dec 12 2019) email to the Review-Journal. “This makes me want to do better. I want them to respect me as a college student, regardless of my age.”
The siblings wrapped up fall semester last week by taking final exams in biology, Chinese and medical terminology.
Shenlone also took calculus. His sister took pre-calculus.
Shenlone and Shenmei started taking UNLV classes part-time in spring 2018 when they were in fifth and sixth grades, respectively. This school year, they’re enrolled full-time as non-degree-seeking students.
It’s rare for students as young as the Wu siblings to take UNLV classes, said Dan Gianoutsos, associate dean of the university’s Academic Success Center.
Fewer than four middle school-aged students, including the Wu siblings, took UNLV classes during fall semester, he said. Many years, there are none.
School officials said there’s no record of the youngest student ever enrolled at the school, which opened in 1957.
Before becoming full-time at UNLV, Shenlone and Shenmei split their time between the university, Becker Middle School and Palo Verde High School.
Shenmei said she found middle school “kind of easy” and the tempo “a bit slow.”
At UNLV, Shenmei found she had fewer assignments and a larger portion of her grades based on tests. She said she now stays up until 10 or 11 p.m. to study.
Shenlone said adjusting to UNLV’s large campus was a big transition, and “kind of scary, in a sense.”
“In fifth grade, my father didn’t want me to go to college,” Shenlone said. “It was my idea because I was bored. After I was enrolled, I became really nervous. However, I had a tutor so the transition to college was easy.”
Shenlone at first got a few B’s and one C, which he said motivated him to try harder. He now expects he’ll earn straight A’s during the fall semester — especially in math.
“Math just comes pretty easy,” Shenlone said.
Shenmei said she didn’t want her brother to beat her to going to UNLV. She called it classic sibling rivalry.
She expects she’ll get straight A’s in her fall semester classes, too.
In addition to their UNLV classes, the siblings took an English literature class online during fall semester through Los Angeles City College, and they plan to take a communication class this spring.
Ming-Wei Wu, a wound care surgeon, said he would like to see Shenlone and Shenmei join the college team to participate in competitions through the American Mathematical Association of Two-Year Colleges.
Their mother, Dr. Julie Wu, is a primary care physician. They also have two younger siblings, ages 10 and 7.
Shenlone and Shenmei are enrolled in UNLV’s dual-enrollment program, which allows students to earn high school and college credits simultaneously. Typically, dual-enrollment students take about two classes each semester. Shenlone and Shenmei got special permission to enroll full time.
Decisions about accepting “super high-achieving” students are made by the university admissions office, Gianoutsos said.
Wu called it rewarding to see his children succeed, but said he sacrifices a lot of time away from work. The family also pays full price for tuition, since no waivers are available.
When they’re not at UNLV, Shenmei and Shenlone receive coaching in chess, piano and Chinese musical instruments at home, and in math and Chinese language at their parents’ office.
The siblings are state chess champions and compete in golf and piano events.
Shenlone was part of a six-person team from Las Vegas that represented the United States in the 16th annual International Mathematics and Science Olympiad Nov. 26-Dec. 1 in Hanoi, Vietnam. The competition was for students up to age 13.
The Wu family also went to Belize last summer for a medical mission. Wu said he wants his children to realize how fortunate they are.
Shenlone also is also a gamer, but said his parents limit his play to two hours a day. As a reward for winning a silver medal at the math and science competition, his parents are letting him compete in a video game tournament at a Las Vegas Strip hotel.
Shenmei loves Legos, and her bedroom is full of them. She also loves reading and listening to music including oldies, 80s and 90s, heavy metal, rap and classical.
Sometimes, Shenmei and Shenlone’s classmates and professors don’t realize how young they are. If they find out, “they’re all surprised — some more than others,” Shenlone said.
UNLV math professor Monika Neda, who has been at the university since 2007, said she never had a calculus student as young as Shenlone. She said he and a couple of other students top the class.
Neda didn’t know Shenlone’s age until Wu told her that Shenlone would have be absent to compete in the math and science event in Vietnam. Neda announced it during class, and students applauded. Shenlone’s classmates looked amazed when Wu announced that Shenlone is 12.
Michael Hack, UNLV academic transitions and engagement coordinator, said recommendations are that dual-enrollment students have a minimum 3.0 GPA in high school core classes such as math and English.
Dual-enrollment students receive support including tutoring and advice through the university’s Academic Success Center.
Hack called the Wu siblings “definitely high-achieving,” and ambitious. They also show courage by feeling comfortable enough to contribute to class discussions, he said.
“They have a lot of support because it’s really important to us that they’re successful,” Gianoutsos said.
Plus, their grades end up on their permanent college transcript.