People in the academe, especially the math enthusiasts, are most likely familiar with the name Farrell Eldrian Wu. The “mathlete” has been bringing honor to the country since he was in grade school through his wins in numerous international math olympiads.
Four years had passed since the math wizard told the world he’d decided to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the world’s top university for ten years in a row according to the QS World University Rankings.
The awesome news is that Farrell did the country proud again by graduating with a perfect grade point average (GPA) of 5 in MIT. The straight A student double majored in Computer Science and Engineering and in Business Analytics, with a minor in economics.
The whole country found out about Farrell’s recent feat from Vice President Leni Robredo who congratulated the young man in a Facebook post. VP Leni shared that she had known the math wizard since he was in grade school as he and her daughter Jillian had competed together in international math contests.
But another memory of the boy that stood out in the VP’s mind happened during the time she was still a congresswoman. Farrell, then 14-years old, donated nine checks—his earnings from tutoring sessions—to the Jesse M. Robredo Foundation, which at that time was building schools in remote areas. “So touching that he is donating his hard-earned money to the foundation,” Robredo recalled in her social media post.
Grades aren’t everything
So how is the new graduate now? After the end of the Spring term, Farrell says he’s finally able to catch up on some well-deserved sleep. He also had the chance to celebrate his graduation by meeting a mentor and some friends, and revisit his favorite cafés and restaurants around the Boston area.
He tells ANCX that “the strong academic and problem solving foundation” he gained through olympiads back in high school prepared him for the rigors of academic life in MIT. Farrell had represented the Philippines at both the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO) and International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI), where he had to undergo extensive training under professors and instructors at UP Diliman and Ateneo de Manila University.
While he had achieved a perfect score in his subjects at MIT, the academic A-lister shares that grade is clearly not the end-all and be-all of learning for him. “What’s most important for me is mastery of the material and understanding of its practical applications — I view every class I take as a whole new learning opportunity,” he says.
At MIT, he made sure to always stay engaged in his classes, interacting with professors and teaching assistants, and exploring related topics or readings. “I usually go beyond a basic level of understanding in each class by making sure that I have a grasp of all the ins and outs of each topic, to the level of being able to teach the material,” he says. “By keeping a high level of interest and being personally invested in the material, it was then much more straightforward to complete each class’s requirements towards good grades.”
Math on his mind
What he loves most about math, says Farrell, is its unlimited potential to change the world for the better. “A lot of innovations in this age of digital technology, from search engines to ride-sharing to social media, are heavily based on mathematical ideas and algorithms,” he offers. “Mathematics also provides a common language and framework for people of all backgrounds to collaborate on ideas that can contribute to the greater good through enabling technologies.”
Which is why as an avid educator, he wishes to also impart his interest and knowledge in math. “Teaching has always been something I’ve enjoyed, and it has been my main advocacy ever since I was 12 years old,” he says.
After noticing the disparity in the performance between private and public school students in a national math competition back in 2012, Farrell founded a mathematical outreach called “Operation MATHew” with the support of Metrobank Foundation. The experience made him “fully invested in making a difference through education” such that aside from actively volunteering, he also started donating his competition winnings (cash prizes) to advocacies such as the youth non-profit organization I am Making a Difference, Inc. (I am M.A.D.).
He was also earning a significant amount from tutoring jobs then. And that was how he met then congresswoman Robredo. “Around that time, I learned that the Jesse M. Robredo Foundation (JRF) is building classrooms in remote areas as one of their programs. I recognized this as a ‘win-win’ situation: I could tutor students for a fee while at the same time teach pro-bono through Operation MATHew. Then, through the JRF, the money I earned could be routed towards more lasting impact,” he says.
His teaching advocacy continued on even during his stay at MIT, where he was given the opportunity to reach a much wider audience as a teaching assistant and content writer for MITx, an open online course program. He also started two classes in statistics to supplement the curriculum.
At the moment, Farrell would like to focus on his full-time industry position to further improve his finance and quantitative skills. He tells us he will be joining one of the world’s largest fintech companies for his first foray into the world of finance. “I’ll stay excited about teaching opportunities that are both compatible with my current career path and for which my background makes me particularly well-suited,” he says.
“Mathematics, as a subject, is most valuable as an avenue to impart critical thinking and problem-solving skills that are relevant to most quantitative disciplines and careers,” he says. “This focus on problem solving, rigorous reasoning, and accuracy, is what mathematics gets distilled into. Simply put, studying mathematics opens many beautiful windows to the world.”
Photos courtesy of Farrell Eldrian Wu