LILBURN - Linda Lui's calculus teacher calls her "a prodigy, with a most brilliant mind and a strong work ethic." Lui is living up to those words. The unique Parkview High School senior is now a member of an elite group.
Lui, 16, is one of only two college-bound students in Georgia who scored a perfect 36 on the ACT college entrance assessment exam. About 5,500 Georgia students took the ACT last school year. Nationwide, she is one of only 67 students who earned a perfect score out of the 427,000 who took the test. The multiple choice test covers English, math, reading and science.
She is the daughter of Frank Lui and Jing Hou of Lilburn. On the SAT, she scored 2,290. Those high marks could help her earn admission to Harvard University or Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she is
working through the application process.
"I took the ACT just to see what I would score," Lui said.
Lui has an natural aptitude and love for highly advanced mathematics.
"I like elegant mathematics, the ones that seem absurd and different," she said. "You find the trick and it all comes out."
She is the granddaughter of a mathematician, whose attention propelled her two grades ahead in school in her native Beijing, China.
"My grandfather was a math enthusiast, and he got me started early," Lui said. "He taught me algebra and geometry before I went to school."
While still in China, Lui's mother recognized her daughter's talent and put her in first grade a year early. Her skills allowed her to skip second grade. Things changed in 1996 when the family moved to the United States. In spite of her brilliance, Lui was faced with learning English.
"I came to America and I was pulled back two grades because I didn't speak English," Lui said. "I was disappointed. My teacher, Mrs. Knopka, stayed after school with me and helped teach me English. After I mastered the language, I skipped fourth grade."
She continued to excel at math, a subject that transcends language barriers. At Trickum Middle School, Lui moved into the gifted math class in sixth grade. In Linda LaPerre's class, students were challenged to apply math to real-life situations, such as engineering and building wealth.
"She knew most of the sixth-grade math curriculum, but we didn't spend much time on drill," LaPerre said. "The students played The Stock Market Game or designed a roller coaster using formulas and applying what they knew. Linda was a great collaborator and was very competitive and
Lui's younger sister, Lisa, 11, is in LaPerre's gifted math class.
At Trickum Middle School, Lui discovered the satisfaction and fun of math competition. She served on Trickum's MathCount team for three years and played violin in the orchestra.
"Math and music share characteristics," said Lui, who taught herself to play piano at an early age. "There are math symbols in note frequencies."
Upon entering Parkview High School, she joined Mu Alpha Theta, a national mathematics honor society.
"I like the competition and atmosphere," Lui said. "It is different math, more expiration. Not just, 'Here are the formulas and equations and how you use them.' In competitions, we work with the puzzle side of math."
As a freshman, Lui began preparing for her college entrance exams. Parkview requires all freshmen and sophomores to take the Practice SAT. She took the actual SAT exam twice, first as a sophomore to acquire a score on the old, two-part test. That same year, she came under the tutelage of Doug Wagner, Parkview's mathematics department chair.
"I immediately saw that Linda was special," Wagner said. "I gave her an oral exam on the basic concepts of Gifted Algebra II and observed that she belonged in Precalculus. I knew that she would excel in Advanced Placement Calculus BC, which is the most challenging math course offered in Gwinnett County. She quickly grasped all those difficult and complex analytical concepts and was always helping other students in my classroom. She is definitely a prodigy."
At age 14, early in her high school career, Lui realized math's perfect depth and beauty in AP Calculus BC.
"My math came together in this one subject and it all made sense," Lui said. "Calculus is the epitome of math education; we learn algebra and geometry so we can learn calculus. Math had a purpose. I saw that it leads to all the other fields that are important in our lives, like technology, biology, chemistry and physics."
As Lui begins her final year in high school, she is still working through the college application process. She is contemplating a major in economics or mathematics. Her teachers say they were honored to have had the chance to serve as her mentors.
"She is one of the top five students that I have had the pleasure to teach in my 26-year career," Wagner said.