| by Manjula Fernando
Courtesy: Sunday Observer
( April 25, 2014, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) "Gifted I wouldn't call myself. It is all a matter of hard work," Eugenie de Silva would refute if you try to equate her achievements thus far to her 'cross-genes'.
|Eugenie and Prof. Eugene de Silva|
|Baby Eugenie with her father|
But how can you not do so, when she had accomplished so much, even almost a Masters Degree from Harvard University. Her batchmates were in their twenties and thirties. She will be completing her Masters at Harvard by the end of August this year, two months after she turns 16.
Eugenie touching the foot of John Harvard’s statue, which is a tradition at Harvard for good luck.
Eugenie, a daughter of a Sri Lankan father and a British mother, graduated from high school at the age of 11, completed 'Summa Cum Laude' a basic degree and a Masters in Intelligence Analysis from the American Military University when she was just 14 and 15 and is about to complete a second Masters in Legal Studies at Harvard University.
She has now been offered a place at the University of Leicester, UK to do a PhD in Politics. Eugenie is expected to commence her course work next month.
A 14- year- old minor, how did she get into Harvard? She breezed through the entrance examination. The only hitch though, she was too young to receive a scholarship despite passing the entrance examination with flying colours.
"I will end my Harvard course in May but the research will be completed in August," she says ecstatically. The Sunday Observer met the braces clad teenager with her father briefly in Colombo a few days ago.
A trip to Sri Lanka every year is a ritual that they have not missed and carried out since she was just four- months-old. Mt. Lavinia Hotel, near the beach where Prof. Eugene spent his carefree days during his early life would be their home during every visit.
Eugenie is from a single parent household and her father, Prof. Eugene de Silva brought her up as a baby devoting his time shared as a teacher of Physics and Chemistry and a single parent.
"I remember waking up several times in the night to feed her. I made sure not to let her feel the absence of one parent."
She is a role model for children who grapple with family issues and fail subjects as a result. Maybe the father's love and affectionate care would have shielded her from all other worries.
"We lived in England with her mum but when I decided to migrate to the US in 2004, after I was granted residence there, her mother declined to join us," Prof. Eugene says.
The little Eugenie did not waste her time thinking about her broken family, in fact she was more engrossed in her future ambition at a very early age - to set up her own Law firm to help those wrongly accused and work for the US government as an intelligence analyst. Her ultimate dream is to rise to the position of US Secretary of Defence.
Her father being a university lecturer built up a conducive environment for his only child to be what she is today. A child prodigy!
She had excelled in her studies thus far, won first place for the nine oral presentations she had given in the fields ranging from Psychology to Intelligence. She has written two children's books and co-authored a textbook with her father for college students on research work which is now being used in college courses.
She topped the batch among 2014 graduates in an examination held by the American Military University. The little genius was featured this month as one of top thirty thinkers under thirty by the American research magazine Pacific Standard.
We queried from her, a question that has been niggling us all the while. " You are obviously too good to be true, if you are as studious as you seem to be, weren't you labelled as a nerd"? She says this was never the case with her. If you stand up for yourself and if you do what you believe, you will have plenty of friends who will believe in you.
"I was active in other areas, soccer, gymnastics at a younger age and I was not anti social due to my obsession with education and research". She says her interest in intelligence analysis may have been influenced by her father's research work in the filed when she was a youngster. "But I had an inherent interest in intelligence analysis and the field of government in general. That is something I've always wanted to be involved in."
She refutes in plain terms that she is gifted.
"I don't think of my self as special. I believe I am hard working and dedicated to my studies." Her aspirations are above average but her record so far proves that she is indeed capable of things above average.
Needless to say her crave for research and education has been shaped by her father's work.
Her father is a professor of Chemistry and Physics. But his interests expands to research which covers intelligence, martial arts and analytical Chemistry. "I cover a full range."
But Prof. Eugene says he did not force her to tread a particular path that he preferred. She was free to choose her future.
She too endorses his comment that she was never forced into doing anything. However, he promoted education in the home front which made her develop a liking to it. "We go for conferences, we travel a lot and have fun together.
In between we complete our tasks individually," says Prof. Eugene.
He has set up an institute in the US which is into multidisciplinary research, a new method of teaching that he is trying to introduce in the state of Tennessee and the US eventually.
"Eugenie is gifted and talented from her small days. I noticed this when she was three years. But anybody could achieve things at a faster pace and in a meaningful way."
He says the novel teaching method - multidisciplinary research - had an impact on her fast tracked education. "It is my belief that science should not be taught just as science but it should be combined with other subjects." That was a concept developed by him and presented in 2003.
Prof. Eugene says Asians including Sri Lankans tend to focus on memory. As a result when they try to do research and independent work, they have to rely on other people to direct them, hence they mostly become followers not leaders. Even the PhD students he works with show these traits.
Another flaw he sees in the Sri Lankan system is the unwarranted struggle to enter traditional universities. He says rather than getting stuck in traditional degree courses, students must get involved in studies that are relevant to their future careers.
The father daughter duo are here this time because Eugenie presented a paper at the Institute of Chemistry of Sri Lanka where her father received an award for his work in the past. Her paper titled 'Is a chemist a better Intelligence Agent?' discussed application of chemistry in the intelligence field, it was a blend of chemistry and intelligence analysis.
Eugenie is working with the National Credit Commission for Martial Arts and Virginia Research Institute in the US to develop on-line 'job specific' study courses to help vocational students. The two institutions have been backing her education since she is too young to apply for scholarships or student loans. Her message for Sri Lankan youth, "They should understand many people and go through difficult times. I was raised by my dad who was a single parent and I had to give up things such as partying or going out on weekends." But she says such things did not hinder her ultimate goal. She says regardless of one's environmental circumstances, anything is possible if you put your mind to it, and convert it into something that you enjoy.
"I hope that Sri Lankan youth would set their goals early and then focus on achieving them, regardless of their excesses."