Let me go on field trip or I'll sue, prodigy, 13, tells college

Prestigious American university fears undergraduate is too young to study in the wilds of South Africa

Colin Carlson is the kind of student every university loves: bright and engaging, he boasts near-perfect grades and a 100 per cent attendance record during his first year-and-a-half studying for a bachelor's degree in environmental biology at the prestigious University of Connecticut.

He also happens to be just 13 years old. And while that tender age may have been one factor in the decision to award him a highly sought-after academic scholarship, it also lay behind the institution's recent rejection of his request to take part in a summer field trip to the exotic wilds of South Africa.

A professor organising the expedition, to study local plant ecology, apparently said he was unwilling to put the young prodigy into what may turn out to be an unsuitable environment for a small child.

Colin, who has spent his life pushing exactly these sorts of boundaries, decided that his treatment amounted to age discrimination. This being America, he promptly decided to hire a lawyer.

"I'm losing time in my four-year plan for college," he told reporters, after filing a formal complaint. "They're upsetting the framework of one of my majors... It's important to have a very wide world view. Biology is fundamentally about the diversity of life, with a focus across the planet."

The university has not commented in detail on Colin's case, but a spokesman told Associated Press that safety is its principal concern where student travel is involved. It refused to budge on that front when Colin's mother, Jessica, offered to accompany her son to Africa at her own expense.

The affair highlights difficulties faced by US universities that cater for gifted youngsters. While a child genius might prosper academically on campus, and sometimes grow up to be prize-winning star of academia, a high IQ does not always equip them for the social demands of undergraduate life.

Colin was two when he began reading to himself, and by four he was ploughing through the Harry Potter books. He skipped several grades at school, and started taking correspondence courses in subjects like psychology, and history at Connecticut when he was just nine.

After also graduating from Stanford University's online school at 11, he enrolled as a full-time student at his current institution in 2008, when he was 12. Other establishments were eager to take him, but couldn't find a way to get round rules forcing first-year students to live in dormitories on campus.

Connecticut has no such qualms. By his early twenties, Colin aims to have completed a PhD in ecology and evolutionary biology and a degree in environmental law there, so that he can work in conservation, which he describes as his passion.

Colin's mother has proudly allowed reporters to follow her son's progress through America's highly competitive educational system. She says he boasts an IQ of over 160, but has been discriminated against since kindergarten, where teachers would not allow him to read books at nap time and he was targeted by bullies. "You have no idea what kids like this experience," she said.

His time at the University of Connecticut has been largely happy, she added. Female undergraduates think Colin is cute. Their male counterparts therefore want to be friends with him too. When The New York Times spent a day with him on campus last year, an admiring fellow student described him as a "babe magnet."

Colin's lawyer, Michael Agranoff told The Independent that he hopes to resolve the disagreement without resorting to litigation. "The university likes Colin, and rightly so," Mr Agranoff said. "He might one day win a Nobel prize for them. He's 13, but presents himself as if he's 15 or 16, so he's socially mature, and most of all, he's a genius, not a pain in the neck. But there is of course a liability issue with the trip, which I'm guardedly confident about resolving."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk / Trainee Application Support Analyst - Hampshire

£25000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor