Number natural

After earning her master’s degree in math at age 19, Isabelle Stanton is taking a break from school.

By Matt Kelly

Photo by Dan Addison.

As a child, Isabelle Stanton built computers from parts she found scattered around her house. As a teen, she earned her bachelor’s degree. And on May 22, the 19-year-old will earn her master’s degree in mathematics from U.Va.

“Numbers have always made sense to me,” said Stanton, who lived much of her childhood in Chicago, with her parents, both of whom are computer programmers.

At U.Va., Stanton spent her free time as an announcer on WNRN radio, getting involved in fund-raising for the station and membership on the Music Committee. She also taught a section of Math 121 (applied business calculus for nonscience majors) in the fall and spring of 2004-05.

Stanton was much younger than her students, and although she did not feel intimidated by this, some of the students did question her age. “At one point my class cornered me and said, ‘We just want to know how old you are,’” she said.

“When I wouldn’t tell them, they asked if I was old enough to buy alcohol. When I smiled, they knew I was too young.”

Having spent time in front of a class, Stanton wants to wait before she does it again.

Teaching can be “frustrating,” she said. “It’s wonderful when the students get involved, and you can tell they understand the material and find it interesting. It’s horrible when they sit there glaring at you, and you can tell they’d rather be anywhere but here.”

So what’s next for this bright young woman?

It’s not school, at least not yet.

“There has never been a time when I have not been in school,” said Stanton, who completed high school at age 13 and then attended Mary Baldwin College’s program for the exceptionally gifted, earning a bachelor’s degree there two years ago.

But when she does decide to pursue a Ph.D., she thinks she may change her major from math to computer science or perhaps cryptography. Both are based on mathematics, she said.

Currently, she is “reviewing her career options,” and will remain in Charlottesville while she sorts through offers. The budding code-cracker is looking forward to an end of classes and homework, and to gaining some real-world experience.

This article originally appeared on Top News Daily, May 18, 2005.