UCF's youngest student will earn master's before 18th birthday

Sophomore Computer Engineering UCF student Adrian Gilliam, 15, started elementary school when he was 4 years old.

ALICIA DELGALLO | PHOTOGRAPHY | MICHAEL MASSAS

Adrian Gilliam was 13 his first day at UCF. He walked the sidewalks of campus before most children are allowed to date. He’s never had a girlfriend, doesn’t have a cellphone and can’t drive.

“If I need to stay and study, my parents have to wait for me,” Gilliam said.

The sophomore computer engineering major, now 15, is one of the youngest students ever to attend UCF. Gilliam is enrolled in the accelerated bachelor’s to master’s program. He will graduate with a bachelor of science at 17, and finish his master’s before his 18th birthday.

Expectations were high from the start, as Gilliam’s father decided early on that his son would be home-schooled. “I felt that regular school’s pace was a waste of time,” said Michael Gilliam, a UCF alumnus with a master’s in business and a doctorate in industrial engineering. “It took too long to get through what they teach. He would’ve been 6 years old starting kindergarten, because his birthday is after Sept. 1, and there was just no way.”

So at age 4, Gilliam started Florida Virtual School, an online public school that allows students to learn at their own pace. He was taught year-round, and participated in classes at Stanford University’s Education Program for Gifted Youth and at Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth.

“If I was in high school I might’ve had a girlfriend, but I might still not have had one. So I don’t know if it’s purely because of being in college at a young age, or if it’s just me,” he said laughing as his face turned shades of red. It was the first time during the interview that he showed a lack of confidence.

Gilliam talks with a precision that makes it seem like he converses with the computers he works on. At 5-foot-7-inches he blends in, but is expected to grow a few more inches.

“He looked young, but so do a lot of them,” said Gilliam’s physics professor at UCF, Edward Mucciolo. “In class he’s as mature as all the other students.” Outside of class, Gilliam joined two student organizations: the Asian Pacific American Coalition and the Korean Student Association. He also attends practices for UCF’s programming team. He is fluent in Mandarin and holds a second-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do.

“I don’t feel like anyone else my age,” he said. Gilliam’s parents didn’t have many worries about letting their son loose on campus — aside from him procrastinating on schoolwork.

“I’m not worried about him protecting himself any more than a 21-year-old in college who is 130 pounds and doesn’t know anything,” Gilliam’s father said. After graduating, Gilliam hopes to become a professor and participate in computer hardware and software research. As for dating, he hasn’t ruled it out. He liked one girl, but she didn’t like him back.

“It was a first rejection,” he said. “You learn from your failures.” He looks forward to graduate school when girls his age begin to show up on campus.

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