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Ethan Zahid’s Aptitude for Math and Science Recognized at State and National Levels

Ethan Zahid stands with the numerous math and science awards that he's earned since sixth grade. (Photo – Mara Soloway)

Ethan Zahid stands with the numerous math and science awards that he’s earned since sixth grade. (Photo – Mara Soloway)

By Mara Soloway

Dulles High Sophomore Has Mastered The Topics Through Passion And Extra Effort

It would have made complete sense if Ethan Zahid had taken it easy this summer. The personable Dulles High School sophomore had quite a mental workout in his last semester as a freshman: he was ranked at high levels in state and national academic competitions that showed his math and science proficiency.

In March, Ethan won the freshman “Top Gun” award at the 2017 Texas Math & Science Coaches Association, meaning that he earned the best overall score for his grade level. He placed first in three out of four categories: Math, Number Sense and Science (the fourth test was Calculator).

The statewide TMSCA tests, which are held at UT-San Antonio, require a great deal of mental gymnastics. Ethan ex­plained that students can have paper, pencil and a calculator for most of them, ex­cept for Numbers Sense, in which students have 10 minutes to do calculations for 80 questions in their head and give the answers in pen. Calculator has 70 challenging questions to be completed in 30 minutes; Ethan’s favorite, the Math test, gives students 40 minutes to answer 60 word problems; and for Science, students have two hours to answer questions in biology, physics and chemistry.

Ethan felt pretty good about his efforts after the tests but didn’t know he had won until he heard the announcement. “When they announced my name for first place in three of the categories, it was amazing,” he said.

He also had several other recognitions last semester:

  • Ethan earned a spot in the 2017 State University Inter­scholastic League (UIL) Mathematics competition in UT Austin and came in second. One Texas teacher involved with UIL, Carter Elliot from Tyler Junior College and Trinity Valley Community College, is quite impressed with Ethan. “Of the 60 problems on the state championship math test, Ethan had the second-highest score in the state and missed the highest score by one mistake,” Elliot said. “Ethan has proven himself to be one of the most accomplished freshman mathematicians to have ever attended a Texas high school.”
  • Out of more than 300,000 students who participated in the American Mathematics Competition organized by the Mathematical Association of America, only about 300 of the top high school students across the nation qualified to participate in the 2017 USA Junior Math Olympiad (USAJMO).   Ethan was one of two students from Texas schools to earn an honorable mention and the only high school student from greater Houston to receive this honor as a freshman.
  • Ethan was the only Dulles student to participate on the 15-person Texas Gold Team in the 2017 American Regions Mathematics League (ARML); the team took fifth place in the nation.
  • Ethan also represented Dulles in Science Bowl, Comp Science Comp­etition, Debate competition and received awards.

Judy Matney, AP physics teacher and department head at Dulles, feels Ethan is a student of distinction. “A host of qualities comes to mind when thinking about Ethan: a desire to learn and help others, patience, persistence, enthusiasm, leadership and the ability for critical thinking. He works conscientiously on any project or assignment,” she said.

“The Dulles High School faculty and students are so proud of Ethan and his accomplishments on the United States Junior Olympiad in mathematics; we predict great accomplishments in the field from Ethan.”

Although his summer included a family vacation to California, Ethan also focused on academics, studying math and science on his own. “I’m preparing for some of the classes I’m taking next year and some competitions I’ll be going to,” he said.

From a very young age Ethan had a passion for mathematics. “I always really liked school but working with numbers was particularly interesting. Even in kindergarten, I always used to look at the numbers and try to see the patterns.”

In grade school, he had started studying more advanced math than he was being taught to feed his passion. Fortunately, he has had teachers who realized his aptitude and would give him different tests and found harder material to challenge him. In middle school he was moved forward a couple grades in math, studying ninth-grade algebra in sixth grade. One of his teachers, Isil Nal, and her husband, Osman, have motivated and helped him with advanced math competitions.

Ethan cites his parents as strong influences in his life. Ethan’s father, Anwar, is a civil engineer and his mother, Samina, works as GIS data analyst. His sister, Raaiqa, whose interests lie more on the right-brain spectrum, is 13.

“My mom and dad have been the greatest inspiration and the greatest supporters through everything I’ve done. They always found time to sit down and talk to me and see if I needed any help,” he said. “My dad helped me out with when I was really young and I was trying to learn more advanced math. “

Ethan credits his mom for instilling in him a love of reading. He’s an avid reader of action stories, with the Percy Jackson series being his all-time favorite; he’s reread the stories several times.

Although he has stopped taking lessons, Ethan plays piano; he says it helps calm him when he feels overwhelmed. He also likes playing sports, especially basketball and football, with his friends. In addition, Ethan volunteers as a tutor after school; last year he taught at Quail Valley Middle School, Ann Sullivan Elementary School and at the Boys and Girls Club in Stafford.

Ethan is still exploring what he’ll pursue as a career. “I’m thinking computer science or finance, maybe medicine. They all seem interesting to me. As I get older, I’ll look into it more.”

Before he gets to that point he has two school years of learning as much as possible. Ethan genuinely loves his topics and he is very down-to-earth about the prowess it takes to excel at math and science. Although he does have the aptitude for both topics, he has put in years of effort and the extra work to reach his level of understanding.

As part of FBISD’s Math and Science Academy at Dulles, Ethan is exposed to how math and science can help solve the world’s problems. For those who feel they will never understand the topics, Ethan is encouraging. “It can be really challenging. When I tried to learn on my own, it was really frustrating when I didn’t get something. But keep trying and look at it in different ways. It’s always really helpful to have someone to help you who knows the stuff. With help from your surroundings it’ll be easier for you,” he said.

“Once you get past the fact that it can be kind of difficult sometimes and you keep trying, I feel like everybody will find math and science interesting. If you just take some time to learn you’ll see how you can use them everyday.”

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