At 12, a confident college freshman Columbia youth is UMBC's youngest full-time student

July 05, 1998|By Erika D. Peterman | Erika D. Peterman,SUN STAFF

Daniel Chapman and his mother were discussing his scholarship to the University of Maryland, Baltimore County when the subject of grades came up. In return for $3,500 a year for four years, Daniel would be expected to maintain a 3.0 average, explained Associate Director of Scholarships Bobbie Shahpazian during a meeting at the school.

"His mother said, 'He'll probably get a 4.0,' and he just smiled," Shahpazian said. "He didn't seem the least bit unnerved by that."

Given his track record, Daniel's confidence is appropriate. Even if he is only 12.

At an age when most kids are navigating middle school, the Columbia preteen is preparing for his freshman year at UMBC as a double major in mathematics and physics, making him the youngest full-time student ever to enroll there. It's the latest in a long line of astonishing accomplishments that Daniel has recorded in his short life.

He was adding and subtracting as a 2-year-old. At 11, Daniel scored a perfect 800 on the math portion of the SAT and 500 on the verbal. He aced the math portion again the next year on an even harder version of the test.

Last year, Daniel and 243,000 other children took the American Junior High School Mathematics Examination, and only 15 wrote perfect papers. He was one of them.

And when he took physics classes at UMBC for two consecutive semesters, starting at age 11, no one was surprised that he got A's both times.

"That was the smartest class I ever had in 30 years of teaching," said Terrance Dymski, Daniel's physics instructor at UMBC. "He got the highest total scores both semesters. It's pretty hard to say anything after that."

Tall for his age and polite, Daniel said he isn't nervous about functioning in an adult environment.

"Maybe at first," he said, smiling a bit. "I'm not now."

Gayle and Raymond Chapman knew early that there was something unusual about their oldest child. One day, 2 1/2 -year-old Daniel asked his mother for five cookies.

"I gave him two," said Mrs. Chapman, who has taught Daniel and his 9-year-old brother, David, at home. "He said he wanted three more."

Daniel went to a private kindergarten for gifted children in Michigan before the Chapmans moved to Columbia. He enrolled in kindergarten in Howard County but stayed for only three weeks.

"He wanted to write in the names of the states instead of color them, so it just wasn't working," Mrs. Chapman said. "His ability to comprehend and to learn, it's just so fast."

Because of Daniel's abilities, Mrs. Chapman and her husband, an assistant manager at American Mortgage Reduction in Baltimore, tried to cobble together an education that would challenge him. He attended a Montessori school briefly, then spent grades one through five at Columbia Academy, a private school that the Chapmans founded, and later sold in 1996. After Daniel left the academy, he and his brother were taught at home.

Intensive math study

At age 9, Daniel met Marianna Gleger, his teacher at the Center for Talented Youth Program at the Johns Hopkins University. Since then, he has met with Gleger twice a week for intensive math study at her Gleger Center of Mathematics in Greenspring.

Math may come naturally to Daniel, but he works hard at it, Gleger said.

"Only in this very intensive environment when he's very challenged, he's excited," Gleger said. "This tough life makes him go to the next step."

Said Mrs. Chapman: "If it hadn't been for Marianna, we wouldn't know how to challenge him like this. We just didn't know."

Academic talents aside, Daniel is a typical 12-year-old who enjoys playing basketball and computer games, hanging out with his brother -- an academically gifted child in his own right -- and watching ESPN "SportsCenter," his favorite television show. He's also an accomplished musician who takes weekly piano lessons in Silver Spring and gives recitals.

And he's already set some lofty goals.

"I'd like to be an astronomer," Daniel said. "One goal I have is to help send a man to Mars. Or a woman."

The Chapmans admit they "don't have a clue" what math Daniel is studying these days. But as smart as their son is, they know he still needs their guidance. When Daniel took his physics courses at UMBC, Mrs. Chapman would drop him off and wait for him in the library with David.

'Trying to support him'

"We're trying to support him emotionally as a young student," Mrs. Chapman said. "We of course have to help him with being 12, his organizational skills and making sure he has his work done and gets to bed on time and things parents do with 12-year-olds."

Though his educational path has been unorthodox, Daniel says it has suited him fine. His family doesn't want him to have any regrets.

"We don't want a child who just lazes his way through school because it's too easy," Mrs. Chapman said. "None of us as parents want to look back and say, 'They had so much potential, and we didn't do all we could.' "

Those familiar with UMBC's youngest freshman say there's little danger of that.

"I have no doubt that he's going to do extremely well," said Jennifer Dotzenrod, assistant director of admissions at UMBC. "He's amazing."

Pub Date: 7/05/98

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