- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 31, 2003

CHICAGO - Sho Yano’s mother hands him his lunch for school in a brown paper bag — a turkey sandwich and cookies.

“You don’t need any bones today? No bones?” Kyung Yano asks her quiet, spectacle-wearing 12-year-old, who shakes his head “no” as they head out their apartment door. She wants to make sure he isn’t supposed to take his samples of spinal bones and a human skull to class, where he’s learning about human anatomy.

But Sho isn’t in junior high. He’s a first-year medical school student at the University of Chicago, one of the youngest graduate students in the university’s history.

If he weren’t also getting his Ph.D. along with his medical degree — thus, pushing his age at graduation to 19 or 20 — he’d also be on course to become the youngest person to graduate from any medical school. According to Guinness World Records, a 17-year-old graduated from medical school in New York in 1995.

But Sho is utterly uninterested in setting records. He also shuns the labels often used to describe him — “prodigy” and “little genius” among them.

Yes, he has an IQ over 200. And yes, he graduated in three years from Chicago’s Loyola University, summa cum laude. But for him, going to school is about learning as much as he can.

“And there’s a lot of stuff to know,” he says, as he thumbs through one of his extra-thick medical books.

While many kids his age have been spending their summers at camp or the beach, Sho has been dissecting a human cadaver and learning the intricacies of the 12 cranial nerves. And so far, having scored A’s on his first few quizzes, he’s handling the course work better than some who are a decade or more older than him.

In some ways, Sho is still a typical 12-year old. He has a pet rabbit and sometimes squabbles with his little sister, Sayuri.

At school, he’s more of the little brother figure. His classmates tease him, for instance, about finding a girlfriend. But they also go out of their way to include him. The medical school also has adjusted Sho’s schedule a bit, delaying his clinical work with patients for his last two years in the program.

Still, pathology professor Dr. Tony Montag says he sometimes forgets that Sho is younger than his classmates.

“Of course, to me, they’re all kids. So he doesn’t seem particularly different than any of the students,” says Dr. Montag.

Born in Portland, Ore., Sho spent most of his early years in California, where his father, Katsura, now runs the American subsidiary of a Japanese shipping company. Sho lives in the university’s family housing with his mother, who originally came to this country from Korea to study art history, and 7-year-old Sayuri, a talented student in her own right who wants to be a cardiologist.

From early on, his mom says it was apparent that Sho was gifted.

His mother recalls trying to master a waltz by Chopin on the piano while 3-year-old Sho played with toy trains below her. Frustrated, she went to the kitchen to take a break — and a few moments later, hurried back in amazement as she heard Sho playing the piece.

By age 4, he was composing. And by age 7, he was doing high school work — taught by his parents because they couldn’t find a school that could accommodate him. By age 8, he scored a 1,500 out of 1,600 possible points on the SAT and started college at age 9.

The response from the public — and some of his undergraduate classmates — has not always been positive. Recently, Sho did an Internet search of his name and was surprised to find many people commenting about his life in blogs (or Web logs).

“One person said, ‘Look at this miserable child with a pushy mother,’” Sho says. “Another said, ‘Look at this miracle of God with his supportive parents.’”

Sho smiles at the notion that his parents have pushed him. “Sometimes, I kind of pull them along,” he says.

The number of preteen college students is still very small. But college administrators say they’re getting more applications from teens who finish high school a year or two early.

How young is too young when it comes to students entering college? Researchers say each case needs to be evaluated individually.

Gary Kiger, the dean of the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences at Utah State University, has had at least two young prodigies enrolled during his tenure — including a political science major who recently graduated as valedictorian at age 15.

But Mr. Kiger says it’s important to ask: “Who’s pushing? Is it the parents? Does the child really want this?”

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