How colleges are finding tomorrow’s prodigies

23 Feb

American universities are using online courses to discover gifted students in math, science, and the arts. Meet three phenoms from the far corners of the world.

By Laura Pappano

Battushig Myanganbayar, an MIT student from Ulan Bator, Mongolia, is photographed on MIT’s campus on December 7, 2013 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
[ Ann Hermes/The Christian Science Monitor ]

Battushig Myanganbayar, a freshman at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) from Mongolia, asks me, “Have you ever heard of the ‘Freshman 15’?” He’s referring to the storied 15 pounds students often gain in their first year of college. I tell him I have heard of it.

We are in Flour, a stylish bakery in Central Square in Cambridge, Mass., drinking tea (his jasmine, mine Darjeeling). “I am moving in the opposite direction,” he says, grinning at his adjustment to the United States. Not only is he heeding his mother’s warnings about pizza, but he is also doubling up on required physical education classes, taking two per semester. Translation: He’s spending a lot of time jogging and playing tennis.

That’s not all he’s doing. There are classes – hard stuff such as differential equations and chemistry – but just months after landing half a world away from his home in Ulan Bator, Battushig is also staying up late working on a new cellphone technology that he believes is patentable. He’s ventured to Harvard University, hung out with entrepreneurial types, and even met with a professor to get advice on creating a start-up. “There are a lot of opportunities,” he says, taking a tentative nibble on a molasses cookie, a new food for him.

I have to remind myself that Battushig is 17 years old, and brought here by a Massive Open Online Course, or MOOC. As a 15-year-old from a country in which one-third of the people are nomads living in round, white felt tents called gers, he enrolled in the first MOOC offered by MIT – a sophomore-level course on circuits and electronics – and aced it. That, along with an inventive device he built to warn his 10-year-old sister of cars encroaching on her driveway play area, earned him attention from MIT and, last spring, an offer of admission. He now has a single room in Desmond, a German-themed dorm near the tennis courts.

[ Full article available at The Christian Science Monitor: ]

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Posted by on February 23, 2014 in MOOCs in the News


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