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NUS maths whiz, 18, headed for honours.

576 words
18 February 2002
Straits Times
(c) 2002 Singapore Press Holdings Limited

Three years ago, Malaysian boy Wong Jiang Fung made the news when he became a student of the National University of Singapore at the ripe old age of 15. SANDRA DAVIE finds out how he is doing.

AT 18, third-year National University of Singapore (NUS) student Wong Jiang Fung is a good three to six years younger than his classmates. But he is far ahead of many of his peers in his studies.

The Malaysian youth from Segamat, Johor, has a grade point average of 4.11 and is clearly headed for honours.

He is also among 40 undergraduates out of his cohort of 1,200 science students to be picked for a special science programme to nurture future leaders in science.

Students in the programme are introduced to broad areas of current scientific concerns and they get to do scientific investigations and in-depth studies of advanced topics in science.

Jiang Fung, who is doing double majors in mathematics and physics, said new tutorial mates still ask him about his age. But they soon forget the age difference.

He is glad he listened to his Chinese physician father Wong Her Li and his mother, Madam Chi Lok Moi, a housewife, who wanted him to go to a university close to home. He has two younger sisters, Sueh Hua, 15, and Sohui, 10.

He said: 'Age was not a barrier - NUS gave me the same opportunities as everyone else. My lecturers never told me I was too young to do anything.'

One of his physics lecturers, Dr Kuldip Singh, recounted that for one of the modules in the special science programme, Jiang Fung picked a difficult topic for independent study and presentation to his tutorial group.

He said: 'Undergraduates wouldn't touch this topic, but he managed to understand it and present it well.'

The NUS science faculty admitted him despite his age because he showed exceptional ability in mathematics and physics. He scored seven distinctions at the Unified Examination for Chinese Independent Schools, the Malaysian equivalent of the A levels.

His parents pay for his university tuition fees, which come up to about $6,000 a year.

The university has taken pains to help him adjust to life away from home. He was staying at an off-campus hostel in Dunearn Road in his first year and later moved to a campus hostel, where several lecturers and seniors took him under their wing.

But Jiang Fung moved out last month and is now sharing a Normanton Park flat with friends.

He said: 'I want to try living more independently. If I stay outside campus, my friends can come to my flat any time after class to discuss work. We can't do that if I'm staying in a hostel because of security.'

He goes home only during semester break because he said he cannot afford the time. He likes to assemble computers and play computer games, but recently gave his computer to his uncle so he could concentrate on his goal of achieving first-class honours.

Now, the only hobby he indulges in is the occasional card game with his friends.

Jiang Fung wants to continue his studies at a top American university, such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology or Princeton.

He said: 'I hope to make it to the United States soon after I finish my honours. NUS has prepared me well for it.'.

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