Mason is...Redefining Excellence
At 17, She Earned Her Master’s from Mason
Stephanie Mui has been content to always run life at her own pace, even if it is a bit quicker than most.
At 17, the College of Science graduate student was George Mason University’s youngest graduate at Spring Commencement when she received her master of science in mathematics. The Fairfax native had just completed the fifth grade when she began taking college courses at Northern Virginia Community College, and she was 16 when she finished her BS in mathematics at Mason in summer 2016.
More astonishing is that Mui simultaneously attends nearby Oakton High School when not in class at Mason. She won’t graduate from Oakton until June, meaning that she received her master’s degrees from Mason prior to actually graduating from high school—or getting her driver’s license.
“It’s really crazy, but it’s been OK,” she says. “I think my time management skills are pretty good.”
Mui, who boasts a GPA of just below 4.0, with an A-minus in one English class, plans to attend New York University this fall on a full research fellowship to begin work on a PhD in math. Despite her academic achievements, she readily discounted any talk of being a genius.
“I started early and just from working hard and having that passion, all this naturally followed,” she says.
Math has always come naturally to Mui. The child of two engineers, she was in the first grade when she first began debating geometry proofs with her father and, by the fourth grade, she had already passed the College Board’s College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) for calculus.
She still has that same passion for math all these years later.
“When I’m doing math, I don’t really see it as work. I really have fun doing it.”
By the end of fifth grade, it was clear she needed more of a challenge, and began taking classes at NOVA, earning an associate’s degree by age 13. She earned enough credits to enroll at Mason as a junior by spring 2015.
“At that point, she was very mature already and intimidatingly smart,” says Mason mathematical sciences professor Sean Lawton, who served as Mui’s mentor.
Worried that she might be treated differently, Mui concealed her age from her peers and teachers alike. She soon became a member of the college’s Experimental Geometry Lab and earned the opportunity to compete in the 2016 Intel International Science Engineering Fair, winning first place in the regional competition and $2,000 from the American Mathematics Society for her work embedding geometric surfaces in 3-D.
She still likes to hang out on the weekends with friends her own age, but math never strays too far from her thoughts.
“It’s kind of like the basis language of all the sciences—physics, engineering, chemistry,” she says. “Math is the underlying thread to all those subjects. It can be applied to so many things.”