Remarkable Filipino math wiz on getting accepted into Harvard

Published January 4, 2021, 4:16 PM

by Kerry Tinga

Eion Chua encourages other Filipino teens to get into math and similar STEM fields

Remember that time last year when Filipinos flooded Facebook with posts pretending that they attended the top-ranked college in the U.S.? It was definitely one of the weirder quarantine trends. At least Filipino math wiz Eion Chua, 18, can post honestly about Harvard, having been accepted to the Class of 2025 through the competitive early action program.

The prodigy has garnered awards in international math olympiads and competitions, where he proudly represents the nation, and is now ready to dive into the next chapter of his life that is higher education.

“Ecstatic doesn’t begin to describe what I felt when I found out about my acceptance into Harvard. The revelation brought flavors of triumph, reassurance, and exhilaration,” says Eion. “And yet, I know that I couldn’t have gotten nearly this far by myself. I would also like to extend my gratitude to my family and my friends: for the endless support for all my endeavors, for all the sleepless nights, and for the boundless patience for all my antics throughout high school.”

On math

It was his father who first encouraged and mentored Eion in math. Then, through the Mathematics Trainers’ Guild (MTG), the young maven began entering local competitions. His first international competition, which he participated in when he was in the fourth grade, brought him to China. Since then, he has gone on to compete in Malaysia, Singapore, Korea, Bulgaria, and Indonesia, to name a few, bagging awards and honors wherever he went.

After a stellar performance at a competition in Romania back in 2014, a Senate resolution was signed to commend the Philippine team he was a part of. Last year, he garnered an impressive perfect (not practically, but actually perfect) score in the Australian Mathematics Competition, one of the world’s largest student math competitions.

Eion Chua at the Philippine Mathematical Olympiad / Photo courtesy of Eion Chua

All that information came from my own online digging. Eion does not even touch on the accolades and the accomplishments when asked about the experiences.

“I was able to meet new people, experience different cultures, and visit some famous tourist attractions,” he humbly recalls from his competition days. “I was also able to become close friends with some of my fellow students. When I look back, I realize that the highlight of my journey with mathematics was definitely the people I met along the way and the relationships I was able to build with them.”

On beauty

To many (myself included), math can come across as an extremely rigid subject. One plus one will always equal two. Two multiplied by two will always equal four. It is a subject of rules and any child can tell you rules are simply not fun.

And so math seems to lack the creativity that many enjoy exploring in an English or a humanities class. In the latter subjects, ideas are easily subject to interpretation, and each of those interpretations can be expressed in a variety of ways. No two papers are ever exactly alike (plagiarism aside).

But when you talk to a math prodigy like Eion, who does not dwell on the end results, no matter how impressive, but rather on the process and the working, you begin to see math in a new light. There is something in the way math finds patterns and peace amidst the chaos of numbers and variables to create a sense of simplicity.

Eion Chua (far left) at a math competition / Photo courtesy of Eion Chua

“Mathematics is truly a beautiful discipline,” says Eion. “Competition mathematics provides many opportunities to practice creatively solving and thinking about problems, and this innovation is truly a beautiful thing.”

Perhaps even more remarkable than his skills in math is the way Eion applies that mathematical point of view in his own life, the beauty in the process, and the working to find peace amidst the chaos of life’s choices. While nobody truly gets a sense of simplicity in life, arguably one can at least get a better sense of self.

On self

Throughout his high school years as a scholar at the International School Manila (ISM), Eion forced himself to try activities beyond math. From running cross country to playing the saxophone, from teaching young students about engineering through the Robotics Club to holding night sky viewings with the Astronomy Club. He even began playing the piano (“shout out to my teacher Mr. Gabriel Paguirigan,” he adds), performing in concerts, joining masterclasses, and jamming with friends.

“I drove myself to go out of my comfort zone in trying these out, and in hindsight, I am definitely glad I did,” says Eion. “Doing so provided me the opportunity to get to know people outside of my normal circle of friends, learn novel concepts and ideas, and experience worlds I’ve never even known existed.”

Not content with just driving himself to try new things, he places a large emphasis on making similar opportunities available for others. Along with some friends, Eion founded the Mind Movers, a UNESCO Philippines accredited club that teaches math and science to underprivileged youth.

Eion Chua (far right) and part of the Robotics Club / Photo courtesy of Eion Chua

“I encourage those who are interested in STEM-related fields to experiment and explore. There is so much more to mathematics or science or engineering than what you might first expect,” Eion adds. “Yet, I must acknowledge that STEM isn’t for everyone. That’s why trying new things is also important. If you feel like you love something else and have the potential to be good at it, you should at least consider it as well, whether it be writing, music, history, or anything else.”

Eion plans to pursue a mix of mechanical engineering and business at Harvard, although he is still open to the abundance of opportunities the university has to offer.