Young math whiz has big plans

Christian Stupak, just 11 years old, earned ‘High Honors’ from Center of Talented Youth

CAMAS — Christian Stupak remembers the day when he knew, when he just knew math was his calling.

His father, a software engineer at Hewlett-Packard in Vancouver, was discussing logarithm functions and Christian got it.

Christian Stupak, an 11-year-old who attends Woodburn Elementary School in Camas, likes to challenge himself with taking advanced math and learning how to play chess. He recently earned “High Honors” after testing by Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth. Photo by Paul Valencia
Christian Stupak, an 11-year-old who attends Woodburn Elementary School in Camas, likes to challenge himself with taking advanced math and learning how to play chess. He recently earned “High Honors” after testing by Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth. Photo by Paul Valencia

Well, he might not have had it mastered or anything, but he comprehended the principles.

Yes, Christian, who was 6 years old at the time, understood the principles behind logarithm functions.

Now 11, Christian, who is a fifth-grader at Woodburn Elementary in the Camas School District, spends his free time reading calculus textbooks. Or coming up with his own math problems to challenge himself. Or learning to play chess. Or taking online tests to measure himself against others his age who share a passion for numbers.

“I never thought of myself as better than anyone else,” he said of his talent for math. “Literally, anyone in my class could do the math I’m doing if they started when I did.”

Christian says while his parents have helped him find new challenges, they never made him do any of this. In fact, he believes that would have been counter-productive.

“When they’re pushed to do it, they’ll feel pressure,” Christian said of young students. “Then they’ll grow to not like it.

“I just have a like for it. ‘Hey, I want to do more of this.’ And it’s more and more fun.”

Christian Stupak rarely goes anywhere without an advanced math textbook. The 11-year-old has a passion for numbers and a love for going beyond the expectation of most fifth-graders. Photo by Paul Valencia
Christian Stupak rarely goes anywhere without an advanced math textbook. The 11-year-old has a passion for numbers and a love for going beyond the expectation of most fifth-graders. Photo by Paul Valencia

The average school work for a student his age was not exactly fun. Mike Stupak and his son acknowledged there were some tough moments in class for an exceptional student who was not exactly excited with the curriculum.

“I didn’t fit in, and I was bored,” Christian said.

Still, he had some teachers who did help him. Christian noted the kindness of Ryan Custodio, who taught Christian when Christian attended Eisenhower Elementary in Vancouver.

“He gave me the motivation,” Christian said.

“When I first met Christian, he had a slightly negative view of school, but he made a conscience decision to switch that over, which, in turn, brought amazing results for him,” said Custodio, who now teaches at Jason Lee Middle School in Vancouver. “He was always challenging his mind. … This is who he is. One who doesn’t give up and will see it through the end till he gets it right or better.”

Toward the end of fourth grade, Christian took an online test administered by Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth in Baltimore.

The center states it is a “leader in gifted education since 1979 …  dedicated to identifying and developing the talents of academically advanced pre-college students around the world.”

Christian received word from the center that he earned “High Honors.”

The letter from the center noted that his scores were “among the highest of the tens of thousands of bright students from around the world who tested with CTY.”

“I just tested my skills. It wasn’t really a test. It wasn’t too hard,” Christian said.

No wonder that when he went to work with his mom one day — Alicia Stupak is a high school teacher — Christian said it was “easy” while working on Algebra II.

Still, he knows that what he wants to do in life will be quite challenging. His goal is to become a neurologist, and he wants to complete those studies in a hurry.

You know how some students look up to athletes or actors or music stars? Christian met one of his heroes, Dr. Balamurali Ambati, an ophthalmologist who is in the Guiness Book of World Records for becoming the youngest doctor at the age of 17.

Christian does not expect to break that record, but he did want to get some advice from Ambati. Christian and his dad met the doctor in Seattle for about an hour.

“Don’t let adults tell you you can’t do this,” Mike Stupak recalled the doctor telling his son. “Don’t let the adults hold you back because some have a limited view of the world.”

Christian Stupak understands there are people out there who suggest he should slow down, that there is no hurry.

He is just not wired that way. He wants to push himself because he enjoys it.

“I can do this if I work hard enough,” Christian said of diving into advanced math and science “It’s more for fun. It’s for fun and to get better.”

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About The Author

Paul Valencia joins ClarkCountyToday.com after more than two decades of newspaper experience. He became the face of high school sports coverage in Clark County during his 17 years at The Columbian. Before moving to Vancouver, Paul worked at Oregon daily newspapers in Pendleton, Roseburg, and Salem. A graduate of David Douglas High School in Portland, Paul enlisted in the U.S. Army, serving three years as a soldier/journalist. He and his wife Jenny recently celebrated their 20th anniversary. They have a son who has a passion for karate and Minecraft. Paul’s hobbies include: Watching the Raiders play football, reading about the Raiders playing football, and waiting to watch and read about the Raiders playing football.

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