Fourteen-year-old has been taking math at OSU for years

Reede Fisher Orange Media Network
Collette Byrne sitting outside the Memorial Union. Byrne has been taking OSU math classes for the past four years, and has been at the top of her class for every one. 

Lauren Sluss, Managing Editor

Out of the 36 students who took vector calculus II at Oregon State University over the summer, the student to receive one of the highest grades in the class was not only the sole female, but also still had four baby teeth. 

Collette Byrne, now age 14, has been taking OSU math classes since she was 10 years old. Collette has taken five math classes at OSU over the past four years, starting with college algebra at age 10 and completing vector calculus II at age 13. 

Not only has Collette passed every course, but she has been at the top of her class in every one, receiving four A’s and one B+. 

Collette is currently beginning her first year at Corvallis High School and is taking the year off from OSU. 

Being the youngest in a college classroom by about ten years proved intimidating for Collette at first, but she slowly acclimated to the college environment. 

“At first I was a little overwhelmed, like any normal 11-year-old would be. I’m in a room full of 20-year-olds, and they are all ginormous compared to me. You might not see it now, but I was kind of a bean pole back then,” Collette said. “And then it faded away; it was just math. All those numbers and equations—nothing really special about it.”

Collete’s college career began at Ashbrook Indepentent School, when the school didn’t offer college algebra for her to take. Instead of taking the year off from math, her father Harry Byrne enrolled her at OSU in college algebra, a class normally taken by college freshmen. 

Despite the larger workload than middle school classes usually entail, taking college courses have intensified Collette’s long-time fascination of math and science.   

“They (math and science) are just so neat, and everything just draws me in. I find it so interesting to find out how things tick,” Collette said. “Everything has an equation applied to it. Every social interaction, just a smile, a wave or a kind word can make all the difference between a bad interaction and a good one.” 

Although the subjects Collette is studying are riveting to her, the most interesting part of taking classes with college students isn’t just what she learns from the teacher, but what she overhears to when the teacher isn’t paying attention. 

“The best part about taking college classes is all the crazy stories I hear from the college students,” Collette laughed. “I’m not an eavesdropper, but I hear things occasionally that are so random but hilarious at the same goshdanged time.” 

Taking courses with college students, although entertaining, has stirred up mixed emotions for Collette. 

“It’s half and half. One part of me wants to scream it out to the world and say, ‘Look at me, I am a genius,’” Collette said. “But the other part of me is like, ‘Bro, calm yourself. We’re not that special; there have been two-year-olds who have done calculus, bro. Learn your privilege.’ It’s hard to find the happy balance.”

Because OSU students are required to be at least 14 years old in order to attend classes by themselves, Harry has accompanied Collette to every one of her college courses. Harry currently works at the U.S. Patent Office, and holds eight master’s degrees and attended a year of law school. His educational background has proved helpful while attending class with Collette. 

“I love going with her and being able to talk with her about school,” Harry said. “I have a masters in engineering so I have a different perspective to look at the problems at and help her with it. I may help her with just strategy, but she does all the work herself.”

Having her father attend classes with her, although helpful, can sometimes be

challenging for Collette.  

“It might just be my teenager speaking, and I love my dad to bits, but it’s a little embarrassing,” Collette said. “Having your dad show up to your classes is, well, it’s definitely different. I’ve gotten used to it by now though.”

Despite the embarrassment, Harry’s constant support proved impressive for Collette’s vector calculus teacher, Hoewoon Kim. 

“Her dad really was amazing, he would always take care of her by giving her the constant support. This is amazing because for me, as a dad with two children, I would not have enough time to do that,” Kim said.

Together, Collette and Harry have worked towards formulating a 17 year curriculum for Collette, hopefully ending in her getting a Ph.D. in physics and an M.D. as well. Collette believes this curriculum will set her on the best path towards success. 

“My dad really, really loves me, so he wants me to have the best possible education I can have,” Collette said. “This curriculum is going to prepare me for my dream job, which is to be someone who saves lives. I could be a doctor, or a surgeon. A lot of people do a lot of good, and I admire the strength of those who go out there and do the things that change people’s lives.” 

Although this plan may prove strenuous, Harry believes Collette will be able to achieve it if she wants to. 

“I feel Collette is brighter than anybody,” Harry said. “I spent half an hour with Julian Schwinger, a nobel prize winner for quantum electrodynamics when I was a graduate student at UCLA. I still feel Collette is the smartest person I’ve ever met.” 

Collette’s presence in college classrooms has had an effect not only on her, but also on other students, according to Kim. 

“Having Collette in the class might have encouraged the other students to study more because she was in middle school, while they were upper level students. They were encouraged to be more active in the classes,” Kim said.  

Although Collette has become accustomed to being around college students, she still struggles with how her age and intellect influences how others perceive her. 

“I kind of hate myself and love my accomplishments at the same time. I’m so afraid that people will be jealous and upset with themselves, but it’s not their fault. They are in the same class with me, it shows they are smart too,” Collette said. “Most of the people I see in my classes are taking it twice-round, and it makes me feel bad. It’s sort of an internal debate, honestly.”

Although Collette has spent a lot of time with college students, interacting with other middle schoolers has proven to be a challenge.  

“I find a lot of people my age kind of immature, and they don’t get me,” Collette said. “I do have two really good friends that are taking advanced courses in mathematics, and they are sort of my besties, if that’s the proper term.”

Despite her college career, Collette still enjoys being a kid. Her and her friends enjoy going to Bimart and walking up and down the toy aisle, as well as delving into their love of the Japanese culture, especially fandoms. 

“I’m complete fandom trash,” Collette laughed. “I have sold my soul to so many fandoms. I don’t watch the anime, but I read the manga because I can go at my own pace and I read faster than the anime goes. Yeah, I’ve basically sold my soul to every popular fandom ever.”

Collette is planning on taking applied differential equations and either linear algebra I or introduction to numerical analysis at OSU this summer. If her high school schedule allows, she may also take more applied differential equations and numerical methods courses at OSU the following year. 

Although Collette’s future may seem daunting to her, she hopes that as she grows up she can start to mature and affirm who she is. 

“As I get older, I’ll start to accept my mistakes a bit more,” Collette said. “I know eventually I’m going to have to—pardon my language—eat a shit sandwich, and I better hope it comes with an olive.”

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