Best & Brightest: Fourteen-year-old Whiz Kid Picks HBCU Over Harvard

BATON ROUGE, LA. A 14-year-old whiz kid who scored a composite 30 on the ACT, Polite Stewart Jr., was recruited by Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Stanford universities, but decided to attend historically Black Southern University at Baton Rouge.

“They are all very good schools, don’t get me wrong. But one of the ‘cons’ is that you’re just one in a number. Many of the classes are so big that you probably won’t even get to know your teacher,” the gifted youngster says.

“Here at Southern, it’s one on one,” he says.

The son of two school teachers, Stewart was home-schooled at his Baton Rouge home until the age of 10, when he began attending academic programs at Southern University. Stewart started with the Garrett A. Morgan/Ford PAS Summer Business Institute, a program designed to teach the fine points of operating a business, including finance. He went on to enroll in Timbuktu Academy, a national model program at Southern University that mentors pre-college, undergraduate and graduate students in math, science, and engineering. He says Timbuktu Academy did more than give him individual attention and teach him the skills to succeed on the college level.

“Timbuktu gave me a huge amount of assignments, and their assignments are comparable to honors-level. So to enroll in regular classes here at Southern really isn’t much of a change,” Stewart says.

Stewart says he used to being the youngest student in his classes.

“It really doesn’t bother me, because I’ve been around older kids and adults all my life,” Stewart says, noting that most of the youngsters at Timbuktu were at least four years older than him.

Dr. Diola Bagayoko, administrator of Timbuktu Academy, says the Southern University mentoring not only helped Stewart build on his home-schooling from an academic standpoint, but also from in his ability to interact with fellow classmates.

“We played a major role in helping him to interact with his peers, who in his case were all older than him,” Bagayoko says. Bagayoko, who is also a distinguished professor of physics at Southern University, says he’s taught thousands of students over the past 24 years, but has only seen four other students that are in Stewart’s class.

“And all four of them went on to become chief student marshals here at Southern,” Bagayoko says, referring to the honor reserved for the graduate with the highest cumulative grade point average.

Stewart also credits the HBCU Upsmart Pre-College Algebra program offered by Southern University’s Mathematics Department with helping to develop his math skills so that he could excel on the ACT.

His father, Polite Stewart Sr., says he first realized that there was something special about his son when he displayed a prowess at reading, writing and mathematics at age 3. A short time later, he noticed his son reading a 1,000-page book about dinosaurs.

“A couple of weeks later, I asked him about it, and he started telling me what he had read in detail. I told my wife, and she went and asked him some questions, and came back and said, ‘Wow!’” recalls Stewart Sr., an alumnus of Southern University.

Stewart may be the smartest 14-year-old kid in town, but he still mows the lawn, takes out the garbage, and does chores around the house. He also likes to play video games and play sports, but concedes that he has little time for them after his school work. Still, he finds time to tutor kids at Greater Mount Carmel Baptist Church, where he sings in the choir.

This summer, he’s enrolled in three freshman classes at Southern University: general psychology, freshman composition and honors colloquium. Once he finishes his undergraduate work in biology at Southern, Stewart plans to attend medical school, but hasn’t decided where or what field of medicine to pursue.

“I’m thinking about becoming a surgeon,” he says.

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