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Runs in the Family: Child Prodigies Pursue Undergraduate and Doctorate Degrees at UC Davis

Left to right: Tiara, Taji and Tanishq Abraham photographed on campus. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)
Friday, October 30, 2020 (All day)

 

When 14-year-old Tiara Abraham first started classes at UC Davis this quarter, she already knew what to expect — her older brother has been enrolled there since he was 12.

In fact, Tiara comes from an Aggie family: mom Taji earned her M.P.V.M. in 1997 and brother Tanishq ’18 graduated with a degree in biomedical engineering and is currently working toward his Ph.D. (Dad Bijou went to Cornell University, but he still wears his Aggie gear proudly.)

“During the whole orientation, it was about getting used to UC Davis,” said Tiara. “I was, like, I already know.”

Like Tanishq, she’s been taking college classes since she was 7. She received her associate’s degree and is transferring to UC Davis with her general education requirements already under her belt.

But Tiara is on her own wunderkind path. Unlike most of her family of scientists, Tiara is pursuing a musical education. A soprano, she plans to major in vocal performance. 

Left to Right: Brother and sister Tanishq and Tiara Abraham, grandmother Thankam Mathew, and parents Bijou and Taji Abraham. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

“We were at first skeptical, because being a singer is competitive and there’s no guarantee how far you can go,” said Taji. “That was always a fear for us. But it’s always good to be in something you enjoy doing. There’s no point in forcing her to do science just because it brings more security.”

Added dad Bijou, a software engineer, her passion for singing is evident in her performances.

“She’s usually a shy kid, but when she goes to perform, she’s different,” he said. “She’s not nervous at all. When she’s onstage it’s a completely different Tiara.”

She already has extensive experience. At 10, she performed at Carnegie Hall after winning an international singing competition. That same year, she debuted a holiday album.

She has also performed with the UC Davis University Chorus, which she will continue as an undergraduate, albeit at a distance as the quarter requires remote instruction due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Basically, we are recording ourselves for our choir,” Tiara said. “I will sing my part, and then the choir director will put it together.”

Tanishq, too, has adapted his studies to the circumstances. This quarter he is a teaching assistant for the introductory biomedical engineering course, and continues his research applying deep learning to pathology.

“My research is computational, so I don’t actually have to go to campus,” he said. “I’m doing it from my computer, so that’s an advantage of my research.”

With two child prodigies in the family, Taji said she often is asked the secret — even what she ate during pregnancy.

“I always get that,” she laughed. “[The answer is] nothing special. A lot of junk food, I guess?”

In all seriousness, she said the key was being open to what her children are capable of. She has devoted her time to homeschooling both children, and acts as chauffeur between their home in Sacramento and the Davis campus.

Taji has even taken classes with them. When Tanishq first showed an interest in higher learning at 7, she lobbied the community college to give him a chance. But she had to attend with him.

“I think the professor wanted my mom to be there as well — just to make sure I wasn’t disruptive or anything,” said Tanishq. “I was just there to learn.”

Last summer she took a piano class with Tiara.

“I thought, ‘I’ll try this. It won’t be that bad,’” said Taji. “But, oh, my gosh, it was so hard. Tiara would help me out on the piano at home. Luckily, I made it through!”

For Bijou, the unconventional path his children have taken is just one aspect that means added attention for his family.

“They are normal kids in every other respect,” he said. “They fight, have fun and this is just their unique gift they have.”