Alia Sabur has always been a newsmaker. She was the youngest student to
attend college, when she was 10, and four years later, the youngest
woman to earn a Bachelor of Science degree in Applied Mathematics from
Stony Brook University. By 18, she had her doctorate degree in
Materials Science and Engineering. And now, the young New Yorker has
made headlines again.
Alia Sabur has set a new Guinness World Record as the youngest college professor in history. She broke the nearly 300-year old record set in 1717 by Colin Maclaurin, a Scottish mathematician and student of Isaac Newton, who became a professor at 19.
"Getting the Guinness World Record was really a great honor to be in such a distinguish company as the former record holder who was Newton's prodigy and a very, very successful mathematician in every calculus book there is," she says. "So I'm hoping to continue the tradition and do the best I can."
Sabur was 18 when she was hired by Konkuk University in Seoul, South Korea in the Department of Advanced Technology Fusion. She says teaching students who are older than she is will not be an issue for her.
"My classmates have always been older than me," she says. "My colleagues have always been older than me. I'm kind of used to it by now. Usually, once people realize that I really do know what I'm doing, there is not usually a problem."
Last semester, Sabur taught four courses in math and physics at Southern University in New Orleans.
"I really enjoy teaching," she says. "It's fulfilling. I learned a lot in my experience at Southern University in New Orleans, which is historically a black college, and the only university in New Orleans that's still operating out of trailers. I wanted to help their recovery effort."
In her new position on the Konkuk campus, Sabur will also be a research liaison with her alma mater – Stony Brook University in New York.
"The research that I'm working on is in nano technology," she says. "It involves developing nanotube based cellular probes for medical research and studying cures and effective treatments for all kinds of diseases."
Through her work – whether it's researching, teaching or public speaking – Sabur hopes to dispel the myth that girls are not as good as boys are at math and science.
"I'm hoping to be a role model for other girls," she says, "and inspire them to go into those subjects so that they can prove the same thing, that girls are good at math and science and that you don't have to be really nerdy or weird to be successful in them."
Alia Sabur credits her family for her success.
"We tried to encourage her as much as possible to do whatever it was that she was interested in," Sabur's mother, Julie, says. "We let her explore her interests not ours."
Julie Sabur and her husband, Mark, were able to recognize their only child's uniqueness when she was just a baby. Alia started to talk and read at 8 months, she says, adding that her daughter has always had an unusual ability for comprehension and processing information. She went from elementary school to college at age 10, skipping 8 years of basic education.
And her talent is not limited to academics. The same year she entered college, she began studying the clarinet at the Juilliard School of Music, and made her solo debut with an orchestra when she was 11.
"She has been very respectful toward her elders," she says. "She's always appreciated great master musicians who she has been fortunate enough to study under. I think maybe she was a little intimidated by the fact they were so accomplished, but usually the music and the science go beyond the age."
Alia Sabur says she is excited about living in South Korea, a country she has never been to before. She hopes she will inspire more girls there to study science, and also encourage more international collaboration among universities and their students.