Seljon Akhmedli sometimes has difficulty with geometry problems. But one way or another, the upcoming sophomore at West Fargo Sheyenne usually finds a way to work through any problem.
She learned that ability from her father, Azer Akhmedov, a math professor at North Dakota State. At just 14 years old, Akhmedli has taken calculus classes at NDSU and passed them with flying colors. She'll be taking several more classes at NDSU this coming school year and could almost get enough math classes completed required to earn a a degree by the time she's done with high school.
Homework takes up most of Akhmedli's time, then she finds time to just work on math with her dad. She's always learning new theorems and proofs.
"Having a family that's been good in mathematics and has cared about their education, I think that encourages me to do better," Akhmedli said. "When you work on this problem for quite some time and then you figure out the solution, I really like that feeling."
Akhmedov only dreamed he could have a stable family with a child who now, Akhmedov admits, might be smarter than him some day. Akhmedov grew up in Baku, the capital city of Azerbaijan in the Soviet Union. His mom and uncle were math teachers and his father was a biologist. As a teenager, he was planning to study in Moscow.
But then the Soviet Union collapsed in the early 1990s, and Akhmedov said people turned to survival mode. Food wasn't easy to find, and Akhmedov remembers going to food stores with bare shelves.
But Akhmedov couldn't abandon his studies. People he says were smart abandoned studying and made fun of Akhmedov, in his late teens and early 20s, for spending time trying to learn when everyone else was trying to get by. Hardly anyone, Akhmedov said, appreciated education anymore.
Akhmedov had a house with a low middle class family, but the money was losing value and getting by with little food was harder and harder.
"Sometimes you wouldn't even find bread in the store," Akhmedov said. "You start to think about the future, and there is no future."
But Akhmedov continued to go to the library, spending days at a time studying math. In days without Internet, Akhmedov ran out of things to study at his library. He said there were no signs it would pay off or lead him places, but he had a sense math would be his future.
"It crushed me a emotionally, but I had to find a way to stand," Akhmedov said. "I feel very fortunate."
After getting his undergraduate degree back home, Akhmedov left for Italy in 1996 to apply to a master's program. But he was told there he was overqualified, so he passed his master's exams and then applied for a doctorate mathematics program at Yale University. With hundreds of applicants, Akhmedov was one of five to be accepted into the program. He came to the United States in 1998 and graduated in 2004.
"We went through years of emotional hardship because there was no encouragement from almost no one," Akhmedov said. "Even our parents were thinking we wouldn't go anywhere. But life in the U.S. is so much better. Any talent is encouraged and there's opportunities. But that suffering was useful. We endured it and you turn it into something good for yourself."
After being a graduate student since 1999, Akhmedov has been teaching math for 19 years. He was a researcher at the University of California, Santa Barbara and then got a job in Fargo where he could raise a family. So he and his wife planted their roots.
The United States, Akhmedov said, exceeded his already high expectations. Akhmedov, who has taken his family back home since, says he has two homes, but he feels he now belongs here.
Akhmedov looks as his daughter with a smile as she says it's fascinating to hear her dad tell his life story.
"He pursued his dream of being a mathematician," Akhmedli said. "I think that's pretty cool."
Akhmedli certainly has excelled here. In sixth grade, Akhmedli's teacher noticed math was getting too easy for her so she put her in an advanced seventh grade class comparable to eighth grade. Then she was going to take Algebra 1 but took the final exams right away and passed with a 97 percent. Then in seventh grade she was taking tests at a 12th-grade level. Last year, she finished high school math completely.
Akhmedli says she wasn't forced to do math. She liked it since she was little and wouldn't be this far if she didn't have a passion for it. Although she doesn't get sleep as often, she still has time for friends and is active in Science Olympiad, sports and music. Friends often turn to her for math questions, but Akhmedli doesn't mind. She likes to see them learn after she's done teaching them what to do.
Akhmedli wants to be a biochemist, biophysicist or a mathematician when she grows up. Like her father, Akhmedli wants to go to Yale.
"I just want to be sure of what I want to be when I grow up and have a good career and a good job and get into a good university," Akhmedli said.
Akhmedli was admitted as an early entry program student at NDSU and took Calculus 1 last fall and Calculus 2 last spring. She finished among the top students with an A. She will be taking more courses at the 200 level this coming school year.
"Sometimes that can be a little bit more exhausting, but I think it's just a really fun experience at the same time," Akhmedli said. "I think some people think I'm an actual college student, just a little short."
Just like America, Akhmedov said his daughter has exceeded his expectations and knows more than he did at her age.
"Excelling in something isn't always fun," Akhmedov said. "I just challenge her."