AU-whizkid

6/1/99

David M. Granger

** GRADUATION FEATURE **

EVEN YOUNGER 'WHIZ KID' TO GRADUATE FROM AUBURN AT 16

AUBURN -- Barun Singh has witnessed all the hubbub surrounding an academic whiz kid who graduates with multiple degrees at a young age.

It was just last fall that his older brother, Bhuwan Singh, was at the center of attention, graduating from Auburn University at 18 with degrees in three different disciplines and a perfect grade-point average.

Now, just as the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, the younger Singh has shown that sometimes the apples don't fall far from one another, either.

On Friday (June11), Barun -- just 16 years old -- will become Auburn's youngest known graduate ever when he receives degrees in electrical engineering and economics.

"I guess we've just always been taught to do our best at whatever we try to do," Singh says of his family's achievements (his father, Chandra, is a chemical engineer; his mother, Madhuri, is a medical doctor; his sister is pursuing a Ph.D. at Northwestern; and Bhuwan is now pursuing a post-graduate degree at the University of Illinois- Chicago Circle.) "Like school is the most important thing for me right now, so it comes first.

"Of course, we don't forget about other things, either. It's not like I'm going to study 24 hours a day, but if that's the most important thing, then you treat it as the most important thing."

Singh's concentration on his school work has paid off with a cumulative 3.75 grade-point average and acceptance into graduate school at the University of Michigan, where he will pursue electrical engineering. Not a bad record by any standards, but phenomenal when one considers that he enrolled at Auburn when he was only 12 years old.

According to Barun, his parents had already decided to send the older Bhuwan to Auburn, but a combination of things convinced them college was best for Barun, too -- even at his young age.

"I was getting a little bored with my classes in the seventh grade (at Montgomery's Baldwin Junior High School) and started getting into a little bit of trouble," Singh said. "On top of that, I took my SAT (as part of a Duke University academic tracking program) and made 1220 and when I was in school my parents tried to get me advanced a grade. And my brother was going to go to college anyway. I don't think any one of those things alone would have done it, but, with everything working together, my parents thought this would be best for me."

Barun, on the other hand, was not convinced that college was best for him. In fact, he worked hard to get out of it.

"Before I actually started attending -- when my parents presented the idea to me -- I made up some up stuff trying to get out of it," Singh said. "I would watch TV and when I saw something negative about college in the news -- like something about hazing or something -- I'd make sure they saw it and say, 'See. This could happen to me.' But that didn't work."

And, of course, when it came time for his first quarter of classes in the fall of 1995, Barun had his fears.

"When I first came here I was very scared," he said. "I was 12, so I looked like a 12-year-old. Everyone else was twice my size and I was afraid I was going to be picked on. I really didn't want to come.

"But after attending Camp War Eagle (AU's freshman orientation) I got a little less scared and I got more comfortable as time went on. Before long, I don't feel strange at all."

Singh is quick to give credit to Nick Conrad, who retired last year as assistant to the dean of the College of Engineering and head of Engineering Student Services , for helping him fit in on campus.

"Dr. Conrad really helped me make the adjustment," he said. "He told me if anyone asks how old you are tell them your 17. So, if someone asked me how old I was I told them I was 17. Of course, a lot of people didn't believe me. But it's funny. Now, it works the opposite. Now when they ask me how old I am, I tell them the truth, that I'm 16. And they'll say, 'No way! You're a senior in electrical engineering. You've got to be at least 20 or 21.'"

Conrad recalls being impressed immediately with the Singh brothers and their parents.

"I first met Barun at a session set up to evaluate him and Bhuwan," Conrad said. "I was really not unduly concerned after having met them about their being successful. Looking at the parental support they had, I thought everything would be fine for them. So, basically, I just treated them like other students.

"Barun served as a tutor for the Howard Strong Tutorial program and did very well in tutoring other students. He helped many who have graduated and many still in the program, and, at the same time, I think his involvement in the program helped him assimilate."

Having lived at home in Montgomery for most of his time at AU, Barun has kept up with his friends there. Like most 16 year olds, he counts getting his driver's license last November among the "biggest deals" in his young life. Like his brother, he's as normal as a June thunderstorm, enjoying Auburn football and baseball games, playing pool and frisbee and collecting comic books. And though he's missed out on some things because of his accelerated academic career, he says he wouldn't change anything.

"I know I missed out on a lot of just hanging out with people my age," Singh said. "But for everything I missed out on, I gained something, too. I think I tried to keep from missing out on a lot by keeping up with my old friends. I'll never exactly what I missed out on, but what I do know is that overall I enjoyed my experience at Auburn."

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june99:AU-whizkid

CONTACT: Conrad, 334-821-6805

NOTE: Barun Singh will be available for interviews on a first-come, first-serve basis on Wednesday, June 9 at AU University Relations. To set up an interview, please contact David Granger at 334-844-9999. Photos will also be available on Wednesday.