Corona university graduate, 16, and 13-year-old sister – a college junior – say they aren’t ‘geniuses’
Though he’s 16 years old and a new California Baptist University graduate, Michael Friederang won’t call himself a “genius.”
“I’m a visual learner. I don’t even know if I have an ‘above average’ memory,” said the Corona teenager, who graduated from the private Riverside university Wednesday, May 4, with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering. “I’m good at connecting the dots, I would say.”
The teen’s next stop is the Chemistry Department at UC Riverside, where he will pursue his doctorate — with a quarter-million-dollar scholarship — starting in fall.
Michael Friederang isn’t the only high achiever in his family.
California Baptist University graduate Michael Friederang, 16, center, and sister, Eliza, 11, pose with their parents, Michelle and Steve Friederang, after the Wednesday, May 4, 2022, graduation. Michael Friederang earned a degree in chemical engineering and will pursue a chemistry doctorate at UC Riverside. Eliza is studying biology at California Baptist University. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
California Baptist University graduate Michael Friederang, 16, poses after his Wednesday, May 4, 2022, graduation from California Baptist University in Riverside. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
California Baptist University graduate Michael Friederang, 16, is seen after his graduation from California Baptist University in Riverside on Wednesday, May 4, 2022. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
Michael Friederang seen on graduation day Wednesday, May 4, with chemical engineering professor Mark Anklam, the associate dean for the Gordon and Jill Bourns College of Engineering at California Baptist University. (Courtesy of Steve Friederang)
California Baptist University graduate Michael Friederang, 16, right, and sister, Eliza, 11, who also attends the private Riverside University, are seen after his Wednesday, May 4, 2022, graduation. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
Following in his early-graduation footsteps is his 13-year-old sister Eliza Friederang, who at that time will begin her junior year studying biology at California Baptist University.
As unusually young college students, the Friederang siblings juggle daily decisions such as schoolwork, social activities, career pursuits and learning to drive. The once-homeschooled siblings say it’s a combination of family support and healthy competition that keeps them motivated.
“None of us like the term ‘genius.’ It kind of infers that we were just born like this, when we’ve worked so hard our whole lives to get here,” Eliza Friederang said. “Our parents always gave us the freedom to learn about whatever we wanted to learn about … sometimes my brother and I felt like the guinea pigs, but we were always motivating each other like, ‘OK, let’s try this.’”
She credited their parents, Steve and Michelle Friederang, for creating a “cool learning environment” in which the siblings could learn. They attended a hybrid of daily homeschooling and charter school programs once a week.
Steve Friederang said the decision to home school was about providing more individual attention for their children than they would have received in a traditional classroom environment of sometimes 30 students per teacher. Building a curriculum tailored to each child’s interests, not just grades, helped the siblings accelerate and finish schooling so quickly, Steve Friederang said.
“Anyone who loves their children and is willing to spend some time with them can be successful with a little coaching and a lot of inspiration,” he said. “Even if you just spend an extra 10 minutes with your kids a day, in any given subject, it wouldn’t be long until you’ve doubled their one-on-one learning.”
Michael Friederang agreed.
“Contrary to what people might think,” he said, class time for he and his sister was “less than the average kid.”
“We didn’t really have that much homework. We did our work during the day, but we would go places and do fun stuff, too — learning things that I wouldn’t consider school,” he said.
The teen credits his parents for “accelerating” his education — one he said was filled with a healthy balance of homeschooling and family field trips. He remembers regular visits to the California Science Center, the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles and the La Brea Tar Pits.
The young graduate recalled learning the periodic table by watching chemistry videos at age 9.
“I was always amazed that chemistry is the building block of the entire universe,” Michael Friederang said.
He hopes to become a materials research scientist and one day work for NASA, building space technology. He said he would go into space “in a heartbeat.”
Michelle Friederang said being a stay-at-home mom allowed her kids to try new things and find their interests. Her husband, who runs multiple businesses and is a part-time swim coach at California Baptist University, also had a flexible schedule. She oversaw daily homeschooling lessons, while her husband had “all the crazy ideas” for experiments to try and field trips to take. The kids would spend Saturdays speed-learning subjects for 10 minutes at a time.
“Our philosophy with homeschooling was always experience. We let them try a whole bunch of things, and if they grew tired of it, we let them quit,” Michelle Friederang said. “We don’t think they’re ‘kid geniuses;’ they are obviously bright. But we see the struggle they go through.”
When both kids started college, “their teachers would tell me, ‘I can’t treat them any differently,’” Michelle Friederang said. “And we didn’t expect them to.”
California Baptist University spokesperson Vivian Quezada said Friday, May 6, that officials don’t know if the university currently has, or in the past has had, other young students such as the Friederangs.
Michael Friederang remembers his first day of college, at age 13, and how classmates were excited to meet him. But adjusting from years of homeschooling to a crowded private university had its challenges — from navigating difficult chemical engineering classes and projects, to making friends and getting rides to and from school. After a while, he found a routine and a group of friends in the engineering department.
And the teen — who’s still learning how to drive — doesn’t mind getting dropped off for classes by his mom.
Mark Anklam, the department’s associate dean, was Friederang’s chemical engineering professor and academic mentor.
“I’d never seen someone that young come in, so I wasn’t sure if Michael would be able to handle (the program) academically; the maturity level of being able to socialize,” Anklam said. “But it was great to see him grow and interact with his classmates. Not only does he have that knowledge base, in one of the more challenging engineering majors you can take, but he knows problem-solving. He has a passion to make a difference and improve peoples lives, and I’m looking forward to seeing him grow and do some amazing things, to continue to kindle that passion.”
Friederang said he picked UCR to pursue his doctorate because of its proximity to home, and decided to pursue his doctorate right after college because he’s “still a bit young to fully go into the workforce.”
Still, the teen is getting a taste of the field during rigorous lab internships he is taking with UCR chemistry professors.
In between his internship and projects, Michael Friederang helps his younger sister navigate her science and math classes, and especially did so with online schooling during the pandemic‘s early days. He said the two “argue a bit sometimes. There’s a bit of a competitive streak,” he said. “(Eliza) applied for college earlier than I did, so she’s always proud of that.”
The siblings — who commute to classes and activities from Corona — also have different interests beyond school.
When Michael Friederang started college and fell out of team sports such as soccer and basketball, Eliza pursued hobbies like gymnastics, swimming, photography and choir.
The Friederang children, Michael, left, and Eliza, are seen celebrating Pi Day when they were younger. Each year for two weeks before March 14, they would spend time memorizing chunks of the digits of Pi, the area of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. (Courtesy of Michelle Friederang)
Michael Friederang’s senior year capstone project at California Baptist University was to design — and write a 300-page paper about — a chemical plant that would produce a biodegradable plastic made from corn. (Courtesy of Michelle Friederang)
Eliza Friederang is a member of the Circle City Chorale in Corona. (Courtesy of Michelle Friederang)
Michael Friederang, 16, will begin his doctoral program in chemistry at UC Riverside in fall. (Courtesy of Michelle Friederang)
The homeschooled Friederang siblings, Eliza, left, and Michael, remember going on many science and history field trips while growing up. (Courtesy of Michelle Friederang)
The Friederang family, from Corona, has long ties to California Baptist University. Steve Friederang, right, coaches swimming part-time at the private Riverside university. (Courtesy of Michelle Friederang)
Eliza Friederang started studying for the ACT exam at 8 years old, following her brother’s example.
But having no interest in chemistry or engineering, she initially struggled to find “her thing” throughout school. Then she took an ancient marine reptile class as a child and was fascinated to learn about life “even further than human history.”
Wanting to be in a more social environment when the pandemic hit, Eliza Friederang was encouraged by her dad to apply to California Baptist University. She was 11 when she started her biology program in 2020, when her older brother was a junior.
“I’m a very social person. People ask a lot about how weird it is that my peers are way older than me, but I don’t think it’s weird,” she said. “I’ve been surrounded by all these different ages and people, so I started to switch in between how I act with kids my age and around adults, while still being true to my own personality.”
The younger Friederang has set her career sights on marine biology and paleontology, combining her love of sea animals and ancient history.
Though a proud father, Steve Friederang agreed with his children that they “aren’t geniuses.”
“Our kids found what they love, and were allowed to go as far and fast as they could,” he said. “They’ve taught us (parents) way more than we could ever teach them.”
Eliza Friederang emphasized that they are “normal kids” who were “abnormally schooled.”
“We’re still teenagers,” she said. “We have our moments, we’re weird, sometimes we want to be alone. But we’re always there for each other and support each other. We’re our own people, and we’re both different and interesting in our own ways.”
She added that seeing her brother graduate and pursue his doctorate, at 16 inspires her to do the same — possibly by pursuing a doctorate in paleontology.
“I won’t admit it very often, but I’ve always looked up to him.”