Prodigy in Leadership, with special guest: Drew Fodor. Part I

At the end of last semester, I had the privilege of sitting down with Drew Fodor. Drew has been a classmate of mine for the past few semesters as we both worked through the Master’s program at the University of Nevada. Drew is definitely a unique circumstance in that he grew up in a way that is very different than maybe you or I grew up. Drew was a child prodigy and up until he shared a little bit of himself during a presentation, I had no idea.

Drew is now a slender young man with close cropped blond hair and a pale complexion. He’s got a great wry smile and he can bring it out in a flash and stash it back just as quick as he returns to what for him are very matter of fact statements. He’s quick to laugh but just as quick to let you know he’s quite serious. I by no means could tell his story, but after our discussion, I am happy to share what he so graciously shared with me. I started by asking Drew to just give his shortened version of what he experienced growing up and how he arrived at the University of Nevada.

Drew: “I was born in St. Clair, Michigan to my dad who was a planned segregate so it’s just been my dad and I ever since I was born. From there, I went to public school like many other kids but around third grade my dad noticed that I was a little different and wanted to get me tested to see what it was specifically. We went to the Gifted and Talented Institute in Denver and had my I.Q. tested and from that point on, things changed a lot.”

Drew: “I stopped going to public and private schools and enrolled in a few gifted programs before I started just doing home school courses.”

Elton: “Can I ask what your I.Q. was?”

Drew: “It was, well it was 154.”

Elton: “WOW!”

Drew: A sheepish smile crosses his young face, he gives a small shrug and continues: “I took courses from Duke, Northwestern, Stanford, and various gifted programs attached to different universities. From there, around eleven, the word about Davidson Academy here at UNR was starting to get out. So, at twelve, while we were visiting in Hawaii, my dad said: ‘So, I didn’t tell you that I was putting you in as an applicant to this program as I didn’t want to get your hopes up. But, you have a phone interview in about five minutes for the Davidson Academy.’”Davidson Academy

Drew: With that wry dimpled smile and a light chuckle: “I said ’What’s the Davidson Academy?’ That’s how little I knew about it at that point. So, I had the phone interview and we moved out here from Hilton Head Island, South Carolina which is where we were living at that point.”

Elton: “What’s your dad’s occupation?”

Drew: “He’s an Exploration Geologist.”

Elton: “Okay, so he was able to move around based on your needs?”

Drew: “The wells are in Michigan and Pennsylvania so it was never where we lived, just where he had lived and worked previously. So, I came here and was part of the first thirty-five students that opened the doors of Davidson. Actually, I think I was the one that cut the ribbon at the door.”

Elton: “Oh! Wow!” (Talking to an individual of this caliber I now wish my vocabulary included more words than “Wow.” But, talking to a person of this caliber and that’s what you’re left with.)

Drew: “Yeah.” Drew looks away, a little modesty shows through. He looks down and continues as his eyes come up. “From there, I stayed at the Davidson Academy for a year before matriculating to the University of Nevada full time. I didn’t decide really on a major straight off but it ended up being biology.”

Elton: “Now did that come naturally? That matriculation? Did it feel a little forced or rushed? What I’m asking is how did that effect you internally?”

Drew: Drew looks off as if seeing some distant object then chuckles a little while saying: “It defiantly impacted my GPA in the first two years of my undergrad as it was an interesting thing to get accustomed to. I wasn’t used to lecture based courses where you have to take notes. I was used to doing things at my own pace, online while homeschooling. So, it was a little different.”

Elton: “For a moment I’d like to sidetrack and explore something. To me and for maybe the people here in Reno, the Davidson Academy is very much a mysterious thing. I’m not real sure how instruction takes place on the inside. Is it a much more open forum type? Is it individually specific?”

Drew: “It is individual specific but it’s also a traditional classroom type of environment. For instance, the math class had twenty students but that wasn’t the only math class. There were five or six and sort of depending on your level of understand of math was, you could be placed in the highest level of math and perhaps in the middle level for history. It’s tailored towards where you are educationally.”

Elton: “In all subjects?”

Drew: “Yes.”

Elton: “And did they focus on any particular subjects or did they allow you to focus on a particular subject? Or was that also very much still like traditional education?”

Drew: “It’s still a very general education. The way that you get unique experiences in different courses is through the university. So while you are at the Davidson Academy, you can also take university courses without matriculating full time. Sort of like AP, but not AP.” Drew gives that wry smile followed by small chuckle.

Elton: “Do you find that it serves as a fast track for students to University of Nevada or to other universities?”

Drew: “Yeah. We had maybe 30% or so go to UNR while the other 70% maybe went to MIT, or Stanford, or various other universities.”

Elton: “Did the matriculation vary for each student depending on what their personal level was?”

Drew: “Yes. So not everyone matriculated when they were thirteen.” Bigger chuckle. “That is definitely depended on the student.”

Elton: “Thank you. So, let’s continue on where it went from there.”

Drew: “So, my major did end up being biology and that was primarily because I wanted to pursue medicine and still do, but I haven’t gotten there yet so we’ll see if that actually ends up happening. In the meantime I’m pursuing my MBA which I’m about to finish up … “ He jokingly looks at his watch “ … in a few days.”Interview

Elton: “T-Minus …”

Drew: Big smile, “Yeah, took my last final yesterday.”

Elton: “Congratulations. When you say medicine, any particular field?”

Drew: “Yes. So, I’ve applied to medical school and becoming a physician is the ultimate goal but in the interim I got my EMT (Emergency Medical Technician). I work as an EMT at REMSA and I also teach emergency medical services at TMCC (Truckee Meadows Community College) as an assistant instructor.

Elton: “Oh, wow …” My jaw slacked a little “… in your free time right?”

Drew: “Yeah. All of the free time that I have.” Another smile and chuckle.

Elton: “I want to back track a little bit again. In the blog that I write, I focus on leadership and project management, and again for you it’s a very unique situation. From an adolescents stand point, how did you manage or how did you juggle not only the curriculum but … like I said, it’s very unique but there’s this eye on people of your gifts and talents so was that ever a struggle?”

Drew: “Here at UNR it was actually a lot less of a struggle than I thought it would be. But, back before then, I definitely had a teacher or two that would tell us ‘Oh stop working with him at home dad, the other children will catch up eventually.”

Elton: “Really? So there wasn’t a complete understanding it sounds like?”

Drew: “Well, there was the Nightline episode we did with the Davidson Academy, I don’t remember how long ago, but that was discussed a little. But, at UNR it was actually not that bad, it was still normal. People either didn’t care or they really didn’t know after the first year or two. Prior to then it was really obvious since I was five years younger. When I started to catch up in age people just assumed I was a regular student.”

Note: I want to apologize to those who caught what I missed during the interview. Yes, he said: “Nightline episode we did with the Davidson Academy” and I totally moved on from what probably would have been a very interesting little gem to include. Again, my apologies.

Elton: “What about other activities? Social activities or interacting with other kids? Again, at that young age what was that afforded to you? Did you find it difficult? Or was it a natural progression that any young kid might go through?”

Drew: “It was difficult for parts of it. When I was still in public school normal socialization took place. But when I was home schooled, it was less so. Then when I was at the Davidson Academy it was again more normal. Then when I started at UNR it kind of went back to a little less normal. It’s not like I was going to go out and party when I was thirteen so I didn’t really socialize much with my peers at UNR. That was an interesting situation where I didn’t have too many friends during my undergrad.”

Expert’s Input: In a piece titled What We Often Forget When Teaching Students to Solve Problems http://growingleaders.com/blog/ by Tim Elmore, he talks about giving permission to students and similarly those young in our organizations. The piece concludes with “It’s amazing what permission can do. When we turn them loose and empower them with such permission, students come up with some of the most amazing solutions.” The point I’m trying to make is we may hire those young and talented to give us the solutions we’re looking for, but what good is it if we force them to operate in a box that will stifle creativity and constrict exactly what we’ve asked them to do in the first place? The Davidson Academy is one of the institutions that recognizes this, can you imagine if we treated all our kids this way?

I’m going to pause here for the night. It’s a great interview so far and I hope you’ll stick around for the rest tomorrow. It only gets more interesting in what I feel is a very unique perspective into one’s personal project management; a child prodigy and how it was managed into the man I very much enjoyed interviewing.

Image Credits: Sketch and Photo by Author

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