WASHINGTON - Stephanie Mui has a big weekend coming her way. Like many high school seniors she's getting ready to earn her diploma and celebrate her graduation in a few weeks, but first, she'll receive her Master's degree-- and that's not a typo.
This Saturday, Stephanie will be George Mason University's youngest graduate when she receives her Master of Science degree in mathematics-- but it's not her first degree by any stretch. She's already earned her Associate of Science degree and her Bachelor of Science degree, and she's done it all while simultaneously attending high school.
She's not finished either. After her graduation(s), Mui plans to attend NYU in the fall, where she has a full research fellowship to begin working on her Ph.D.
It might sound crazy, but it's true. In an interview on FOX 5 News Morning, Stephanie said her quick success is due in part to getting an early start. She discovered her love for math when she was in first grade, and began debating geometry proofs with her father. By the end of fourth grade, she had passed the College Board's calculus exam.
Stephanie, a Fairfax native, started taking college courses at Northern Virginia Community College after fifth grade. She earned her Associates degree by age 13. Last summer, she earned her undergraduate degree, a Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics, from George Mason, and then got started on her Master's. She'll graduate from high school next month.
When she started at George Mason, Stephanie says she worried that she might be treated differently because of her age.
"I didn’t try to hide it," she remembers. "I just never brought it up. But if people ask, I tell them."
The soon-to-be Oakton High School graduate says she still sets time aside for "normal" activities, for kids her age.
"It’s very important," she told FOX 5 DC. "I try my best to always have some free time on the weekend, whenever, to just keep in touch with all my friends."
Both of Stephanie's parents are engineers, and she says she debated following in their footsteps. But after joining an experimental geometry lab at George Mason, she knew mathematical research was her true love.
"I'd like to do something involving research whether it's in industry or academia," she said. "I don't really know. It depends on what opportunities are out there after I graduate from NYU."
Why has she been so successful? Stephanie's answer is simple: good old-fashioned hard work.
"I definitely do not consider myself a genius. You know, I haven't done anything super huge yet," Stephanie said.
As someone who at 17 already holds more degrees than some people will earn in a lifetime, what subjects does Stephanie find difficult? English and history, she says, because they are not really technical. But if there's a lesson in all of it, Stephanie says it's simple: don't be afraid.
"Usually, when I look at any problem, I see it as just a challenge, kind of like a puzzle I have to solve," she said. "Don't be afraid to make mistakes. Mistakes are the way you learn. I've definitely made a lot of mistakes along the way to here. Definitely, do not be afraid."