Driver’s License to Degree: CLAS celebrates 16-year-old graduate

2015 was a big year for Alina Zheng; in the same year that she celebrated her sweet 16, she also earned a bachelor’s degree from KU. Alina said she was able to accelerate through education from a young age, and with Advanced Placement credits and careful planning she was able to graduate from KU in just two and half years. She was honored at the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences undergraduate recognition ceremony on Dec. 13 and was greeted on stage by her father Charlie Zheng, KU professor of aerospace engineering (pictured above with Alina).

We asked Alina about her favorite KU memories and her childhood dream of becoming president.

Major: Political science, minors in mathematics and economics

Alina, second from the right, pictured with members of the Watkins Scholarship Hall executive board.

How did you choose your major? Originally, I had actually planned to get my degree in mechanical engineering. However, I have always been interested in politics and I was actually the president of the Young Democrats’ Club in high school. It was after my study abroad in China when I got to experience firsthand the fast development of the nation as well as interact directly with the people there that I realized how much China-US relations hit home for me. I also knew that to produce concise and successful research, I still wanted a strong background in quantitative analysis so I chose to study mathematics and economics as well.

Tell us what it was like to attend college classes at such a young age: The amazing thing about KU is that taking classes here wasn’t any different for me than it was for every other student. The students, peers, and professors are all very supportive in the learning experience and I was able to talk to everyone easily and, frankly, normally.

How were you able to complete your education so quickly? Starting from a young age, I accelerated through my K-12 education. In addition, I took quite a few AP and college-level classes in high school, which put me off to a fast start at KU from the get-go. With some careful course planning, I was able to graduate in 2.5 years.

“My favorite KU memory is…” all of the experiences I’ve had living at Watkins Scholarship Hall here at KU. The hall is an all-female hall with 49 students living here. It’s just a great community where I’ve made so many friends throughout my time here and gotten close to. If I had to pick one memory as my favorite, it would have to be my best friend and I going down to the tunnels below the Union and just singing whatever we felt like because the acoustics down there are great. People walking by probably didn’t understand what we were doing, but we had such a great time that neither of us cared.

“I became a Jayhawk because…” when you attend KU you don’t just attend a university, you become a part of a legacy and a community for life.

“I’m most proud of…” my decision to come to KU. It’s easy to get roped into the idea of going to a famous or prestigious school, but after coming here I know I wouldn’t have gotten the same level of support anywhere else.

The best advice I ever got: was that success is 99% attitude and 1% aptitude. It doesn’t matter where you start, if you work hard and stay dedicated, you’ll be able to realize your goals. That has definitely proven true from my experiences.

What was the last thing you read for fun? The last book I read for fun was “Divergent.” After all, there’s nothing like a trashy teen novel to brighten up your day.

What did you want to be when you were growing up? I said that I wanted to be president when I grew up. I definitely didn’t know what that entailed at time, but I guess it actually turned out to be more accurate than I expected.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party? I would invite Martin Luther King Jr., Condoleezza Rice, Jacqueline du Pre, and Mao Zedong to my dream dinner party. I think it’s important to not only understand the people you look up to, but also those who made waves in history that you don’t necessarily like or understand. All of these people have made decisions and experienced history that I would want to understand better.