More than math: Jeffrey Chen reaches apex through hard work, talent


Gabriel Issa

One of the nation’s top high schoolers in math, Jeffrey Chen is outgoing and involved in a number of activities outside of math like computer science, physics and the Diplomacy Club

Audrey Park, Managing Editor

When Jeffrey Chen came to Lab in sixth grade and joined the math team as a ninth grader, it did not take long for his classmates, math team coach and teachers to recognize his passion for and natural talent at math. 

Jeffrey, now a senior and co-captain of the math team, is one of the nation’s top high schoolers in math, but beyond that, he is known as an enthusiastic leader, hard worker and outgoing friend. 

Jeffrey’s interest in math began in sixth grade and ignited through his relationship with former math teacher Christopher Freeman, who died in 2020. Jeffrey said Mr. Freeman was his biggest inspiration.

“He recognized I was pretty good at it and showed me how fun math can be,” Jeffrey said. “Over time, we grew very, very close, and I saw him as a father figure who always gave me advice on mathematics and even outside of it.”

Math teacher Joseph Scroll has coached Jeffrey for four years. Mr. Scroll said Jeffrey is the most talented math team competitor he has seen in the 15 years he has taught at Lab, and one of the most talented people the high school has ever produced.

That is how good he is at this. There is no one at our school that’s better at anything than he is at this.

— Joseph Scroll

“When it comes to these kinds of math competitions, Jeffrey Chen is better at this than anyone in this building has ever been at doing anything they have done,” Mr. Scroll said. “That is how good he is at this. There is no one at our school that’s better at anything than he is at this.”

Jeffrey credits his math success to his pure passion for and enjoyment of the subject. Although math has come naturally to him, he believes hard work is critical.

“I do believe that most people, if they work hard enough and put enough effort into math, they can become good at it too,” Jeffrey said. “A big part is once you really learn how to enjoy math and see it as something fun, you naturally become really motivated to work harder and learn more.”

During middle and high school, he has competed in countless competitions, including the Harvard-MIT Mathematics Tournament, the Princeton University Mathematics Competition, the ICTM competition and the North Suburban Math League — and has placed in them frequently. More recently and perhaps notably, out of over 100,000 initial participants, Jeffrey is one of 30 students competing to make the International Mathematical Olympiad team.   

Mr. Scroll has recognized Jeffrey’s natural talent since “day one” but views him as incredibly hardworking.

“I have seen a lot of natural talent on his part, and to be at the level that he is at, you have to be naturally talented — and that’s true with anything,” Mr. Scroll said, “but I don’t think you could be where he is without a great deal of preparation, and it is a credit to him because it is difficult to be that talented and also be that hardworking.”

Jeffrey is currently taking Linear Algebra and Multivariable Calculus, and AP Statistics. One of his math teachers, Farukh Khan, said Jeffrey thrives in math because of his dedication to the subject.

Most people have this conception that really smart people are socially awkward, but he is the opposite of that.

— Adam Tang

“I am sure he is extremely talented, but the thing about pure mathematics is you have to possess the ability to concentrate, and Jeffrey has that in spades,” Mr. Khan said. “So that is what sets him apart from others: his passion, the initiative and the ability to do what it takes to succeed.”

Junior Adam Tang, the other co-captain of the math team and Jeffrey’s friend, said Jeffrey makes math fun. Adam said Jeffrey is one of the most socially outgoing people he knows. 

Adam said, “Most people have this conception that really smart people are socially awkward, but he is the opposite of that.”

Currently, Jeffrey is working on a math project with a graduate student and professor at the University of Amherst through a program called MIT Primes. Jeffrey plans to major in math in college and pursue a math-related profession in academia.

Aside from math, Jeffrey is interested in computer science and said it is a large part of his life. 

Outside of academics, Jeffrey enjoys playing board games. He is the president of the Diplomacy Club. Some of his other favorite games include Settlers of Catan and poker. 

A successful and eventful four years later, Jeffrey has created a profound impact on the math team and will leave a long-lasting legacy at Lab. 

“He is a great leader, but he is also just one of the nicest kids I could ever remember having on the math team,” Mr. Scroll said. “I mean, as far I am concerned, he really is just a great kid and person. He is really just one of the best team members we have ever had.”