When he first began classes at age 10, Arun Jambulapati became the youngest student
ever at the U of M. Now a junior, graduation is just around the corner.
By Chelsea Boozer
At first glance, Arun Jambulapati might look like any other University of Memphis
student, being unnoticeably average in height with wispy hairs of a developing mustache
atop his upper lip.
He usually sits in the front row, occasionally doodling in his notebook. Though soft-spoken
and reserved in social situations, he is confident when responding to questions posed
by his professors.
Arun is 13 years old. A junior at the U of M majoring in mathematical sciences and
economics, he is believed to be the youngest student ever enrolled at the University.
"It wasn’t very bad," Arun says, referring to his first college algebra course, which
he took when he was 10 years old. His mother shuttled him between the U of M campus
and his traditional classes at Cordova Middle School each day for the 8 a.m. course.
|Arun Jambulapati, a 13-year-old junior at the University of Memphis, plans to earn
a PhD by age 18 and teach incoming freshmen. (Photo by Aaron Turner.)
He quit middle school at age 11 because the courses didn’t intellectually stimulate
FINDING HIS PLACE
"He used to get into trouble with the teachers," says Arun’s father, V.J. Jambulapati.
"For example, in third grade the teacher was still teaching him the clocks — the hour
and minute hand. He says, ‘I’m not going to do it.’ He says, ‘I did this when I was
2 years old.’"
At age 1, Arun recited numbers in English, Latin, Spanish and Telegu, the first language
of his Indian parents.
Arun says his ability to remember a chain of numbers is nothing miraculous, adding
that he thinks he has a photographic memory.
"That’s not special. A computer could do that," he says, looking down while fidgeting
with his mother’s iPhone ear buds and impatiently tapping his foot.
His father, however, talks extensively about Arun’s gift, but says he tries not to
make a big deal of it.
"He has been like that ever since he was born," V.J. says. "We don’t treat him any
more special. In our family, it is expected. He is hitting a milestone, that’s all.
He has to excel."
"Excel" could be considered an understatement of Arun’s academic performance in grade
He knew multiplication at age 2, before he could read. When others were decorating
their folders with baseballs and dinosaurs in second grade, Arun wrote the chemical
equation for penicillin, something he was fascinated by at the time.
"People are born gifted," V.J. says. "He was suffering when he was in middle school.
He zoned out. He got into trouble. He was not focused. When the bus dropped him off,
he was dragging himself."
So, after a tutor hired by Memphis City Schools fell short in motivating Arun and
keeping his attention, the family turned to U of M Provost Ralph Faudree, who taught
Arun’s college algebra course in 2009.
With no high school diploma and a fifth-grade education, Arun initially wasn’t allowed
to fully matriculate. His high IQ persuaded Betty Huff, vice provost of Enrollment
Services, to allow Arun to become a concurrent student, meaning Arun could earn credit
but couldn’t seek a degree.
After earning an A in each of his courses, Arun was allowed to fully enroll at age
10 in the spring of 2010.
"This was looked at very carefully," Faudree says. "He was asked to take specific
courses — not just in science, which is his strength — to make sure it was appropriate
for him and that he would be capable of going here."
For safety purposes, administrators established stipulations for
Arun, including that his parents be on campus when he is in class.
"It shouldn’t be a normal thing," Huff says of underage enrollment.
"The student has to have a certain maturity and a certain intellectual ability. There
are ages where you have to assess whether a student is too young."
Though Arun’s age and maturity level were deemed acceptable by the U of M, other universities,
including Harvard, Duke and Stanford, declined his applications based on the same
criteria, V.J. says.
"I was thinking universities would have some special program or something, but really
they don’t see these kind of kids often," says. V.J.
Most universities require students to live on campus, but Arun is too young to do
so. He and his parents commute from a Memphis suburb each day.
IN THE CLASSROOM
Arun says he plans to take his time and graduate in 2014. He did not say what he wants
to do after college.
"I have two years to think about it. I might go to graduate school, so that is more
time to think about it," he says with a shrug of his shoulders.
His father, more forthcoming than Arun, says that he knows what Arun’s post-college
|Jambulapati first entered the U of M at age 10. He is on schedule to graduate next
year at 14 years of age. American and British television producers have approached
Arun’s parents about doing a reality show about him, but they have turned down all
requests. (Photo by Jim Weber/Commercial Appeal.)
"His goal is to finish his PhD by 18, and he wants to get tenure at a university at
18 and he wants to be teaching incoming freshmen," he says, chuckling at the marked
irony of such a scenario. "And, he is serious. He loves teaching."
Faudree says that at age 10, Arun showed a skill many bright children don’t have —
the ability to explain how to do a math problem and be understood. However, students
didn’t always adjust easily to having such a young and talented kid in their class.
"Some students told me they didn’t think it was appropriate for him to be in the class.
It was a put down for them," Faudree says. "That was a very small minority, and it
went away. As the semester went along, students began to ask him questions."
Classmates from Arun’s fall semester theory course say that his mannerisms and adolescent
face drew attention to his age, but that none of them knew he was not yet a teenager.
Most say they assumed Arun was a high school student — 16 or 17 at the most.
Zach Clark, economics senior, says Arun’s frequent responses to the professor’s questions
in the three classes they’ve had together gave away his age.
"It seems like he isn’t really paying attention, and then he blurts out something
really confusing," Clark says. "Sometimes it’s over my head."
Faudree says that Arun was frank in class, something he attributes
"Occasionally a teacher will make a mistake, and most students would say, ‘Is that
right?’ But Arun was much more blunt about that. He’d say, ‘That’s not right. That
should be this,’" Faudree says.
He notes that sometimes Arun walked around during tests, "to think a bit."
"He was still a 10-year-old kid, and that showed," Faudree says. "But, he was very
active in class. It was kind of funny in a way. I ask students a lot of questions,
and he had his hand up every time. One of my challenges was to make him feel good
about asking questions, but not let him be the only one to answer."
Arun’s mom, Suchi Jambulapati, says advancing Arun to college was a good decision.
"To be frank, people ask, ‘Do college kids misbehave with him in the class?’ But seriously,
we didn’t have that thinking. We didn’t have that problem with the other kids talking
bad stuff," she says. "So far, we are comfortable."
Though Arun’s intelligence is beyond that of a 13-year-old, the majority of his friends
are his age. He doesn’t talk about college classes with them, sticking to more age-appropriate
activities including Pokémon and video games.
A FAMILY IN TRANSITION
Arun’s academic progress didn’t come without tough decisions by his parents.
"My husband and I planned around our schedules to be on campus with Arun," Suchi says.
"It’s tough, but I work from home now. Because of him, I just quit. I couldn’t do
it. I needed flexibility."
V.J. quit his job altogether in order to bring Arun to campus.
"After working 16 years, I was ready for a change anyway. I’ll probably never go back
to working," he says. "In one way, we realize if we don’t do it now, no matter what
we do tomorrow, it won’t help. Arun needs help. He needs guidance."
Neither parent minds sacrificing for Arun, but neither denies the challenges that
come with parenting such a gifted child.
"It’s tough," V.J. says, referring to making the decision of allowing Arun to drop
out of grade school.
When Arun turned 7, television producers began calling. Both British and American
producers have asked Arun to star in his own reality show, but V.J. has told them
he is not interested.
V.J. says that though he supports his son and will continue to do so, he doesn’t want
to shelter him, and that Arun will have to make and learn from his own decisions in
"He has to figure it out. I cannot live for him his life," V.J. says.
(Article adapted from Daily Helmsman story.)