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Article of Interest - Gifted Students

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Bridges4Kids LogoIn Chicago, Trading His Crayons for Craniums
Boy, 12, has begun studies for his medical degree.
Baltimore Sun, August 19, 2003
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Sho Yano's mother hands him his lunch for school in a brown paper bag - a turkey sandwich and cookies included.  "You don't need any bones today? No bones?" Kyung Yano asks her quiet, spectacle-wearing 12-year-old, who shakes his head "no" as they head out their apartment door. She wants to make sure he isn't supposed to take his samples of spinal bones and a human skull to class, where he's learning about human anatomy.

It's the kind of morning many young students and their parents experience - except for one thing. Sho isn't in junior high. He's a first-year medical school student at the University of Chicago, where he's the youngest ever to attend one of the university's professional schools.

If he weren't also getting his doctorate along with his medical degree - thus, pushing his age at graduation to 19 or 20 - he'd also be on course to become the youngest person to graduate from any medical school. According to the Guinness list of world records, a 17-year-old graduated from medical school in New York in 1995.

But Sho is utterly uninterested in setting records. He also shuns the labels often used to describe him - "prodigy" and "little genius" among them.

Yes, he has an IQ higher than 200. And, yes, he graduated in three years from Chicago's Loyola University, summa cum laude. But for him, going to school is about learning as much as he can.

"And there's a lot of stuff to know," he says as he thumbs through one of his extra-thick medical books.

While many children his age have been spending their summers at camp or the beach, Sho has been dissecting a human cadaver and learning the intricacies of the 12 cranial nerves. And, having scored A's on his first few quizzes, he's handling the course work better than some who are a decade or more older than he is.

Some of his classmates were wary at first. That included Luka Pocivavsek, a 22-year-old medical student who shared a room with his young classmate at a retreat for new students in the M.D./Ph.D. program.

At first, he thought Sho - who often pauses to ponder questions before answering and chooses his words carefully - was very quiet. He wondered how such a young student could handle the emotional and social rigors of being a doctor.

But Sho quickly won him over.

"He has surpassed my expectations in every imaginable way," Pocivavsek says. "His initial shyness has given way to a very sociable guy. And his understanding of complex social and political issues is very keen and observant."

In some ways, Sho is still a typical 12-year-old. He has a pet rabbit and sometimes squabbles with his little sister, Sayuri. And while he's not a fan of Harry Potter, he adores books by best-selling children's author Brian Jacques.

At school, he's more of the little brother figure. His classmates tease him, for instance, about finding a girlfriend. But they also go out of their way to include him, often socializing in their homes instead of bars - or choosing movies to watch that are rated no higher than PG.

The medical school also has adjusted Sho's schedule a bit, delaying his clinical work with patients for his last two years in the program.

Still, pathology professor Tony Montag says he sometimes forgets that Sho is younger than his classmates.

"Of course, to me, they're all kids. So he doesn't seem particularly different than any of the students," says Montag, who teaches Sho and other first-year students about microscopic tissues in their histology class.

Born in Portland, Ore., Sho spent most of his early years in California, where is father, Katsura, now runs the American subsidiary of a Japanese shipping company. Sho lives in the university's family housing with his mother, who came to this country from Korea to study art history, and 7-year-old Sayuri, who wants to be a cardiologist.

From early on, his mother says, it was apparent that Sho was gifted. She recalls trying to master a waltz by Chopin on the piano while 3-year-old Sho played with toy trains below her. Frustrated, she went to the kitchen to take a break - and a few moments later, hurried back in amazement as she heard Sho playing the piece.

His mother says it's difficult to explain what having a child such as Sho has been like. But she and her husband were always clear. "He will decide his own life, what he wants to do," she says.  

   

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