Math prodigy graduates from Rowan at 18

Math prodigy graduates from Rowan at 18


Patrick Bray isn’t your average 18-year-old – not by a long shot.

While other students his age are getting ready to become freshmen all over again, Bray has years of mathematical research experience, a paper published in a peer-reviewed journal . . . and now, a bachelor’s degree.

Already a stellar student, Bray began looking into colleges at the age of 13, then a high school sophomore. By 14, he was applying to college. While other students might find a college search at this early age overwhelming, to Bray, it “felt like the natural thing to do.”  

“All of my classmates were seniors, so it was not too weird,” he said. “I was always tall and looked older, so I didn’t feel like I stuck out too much.”

Finding research opportunities at Rowan

At 14, as he was seriously exploring his college choices, Bray visited an open house event at Rowan University. There, he spoke with associate professor of mathematics Dr. Christopher Lacke about research opportunities.

Lacke gave him a list of names of Rowan faculty to get in touch with, starting with mathematics professor Dr. Hieu Nguyen. Bray sent Nguyen a hopeful email – and the rest was history.

“Patrick Bray is an outstanding student, one who is highly regarded by all of his math professors and unmatched by his peers in terms of his problem-solving ability and deep understanding of advanced mathematics,” said Nguyen. “Not only is Patrick one of the most mathematically talented students to ever graduate from Rowan, he is also one of its youngest.” 

Starting in 2015, a year before he officially enrolled at Rowan, Bray, then 14, began working with Nguyen on research into the Mandelbrot set. Their research was subsequently published in the refereed journal Integers. At age 15, Bray began his undergraduate studies, double majoring in mathematics and philosophy. He lived at home while in college. “Before I got my license, my mom drove me (to campus)," he said. “But I have my license now.”

He spent his spare time leading the Rowan Math Team as president, reinvigorating a languishing chapter that previously had been in danger of losing its charter. On the research front, he shifted his focus to the study of frames, which, he said, “are weirdly connected to almost everything,” including communications engineering and signal reconstruction.

Bray graduated last week – a year ahead of schedule, even considering his early start in college. He also received the 2019 Dean’s Outstanding Senior Award in Mathematics in the College of Science & Mathematics.

A future in research

The opportunities to take part in research with the Department of Mathematics at Rowan have been very helpful, Bray said, especially now that he is looking at his career options.

Ultimately, he would like to become a professor himself at an institution where he could continue his research. The instructors who have worked alongside Bray during and even before his undergraduate career expect nothing less from the high-achieving young man. “Patrick is a rising star with the potential of becoming a top-notch mathematician,” Nguyen said.

In the meantime, though, the Haddon Township native says he will “take a gap year to work on applications and get some more research under my belt” before pursuing a Ph.D. in mathematics. He already has started working on research in medical imaging reconstruction with assistant professor of mathematics Dr. Peter Muller.

Unsurprisingly, Bray’s words of advice – words that young college students, traditional students and adult learners returning to school all could use to hear – are wise beyond his years.

“You’d be surprised who will give you help,” Bray said. “I’ve gotten a lot out of emailing people who I thought wouldn’t get back to me.”