UArizona student, 16, wants answers about gifted minds, especially his own

Tadeusz Borowski

Tadeusz Borowski was still 15 when he graduated in May, giving him the distinction of being the youngest member of his class at Sandra Day O'Connor High School north of Phoenix. He began in the College of Medicine – Tucson and W.A. Franke Honors College on Monday.

Chris Richards/University Communications

Tadeusz Borowski has a lot of questions about the mind and what makes each one different, including his own.

Borowski, who goes by TJ, turned 16 in June. He graduated high school two years early in May and was the youngest in his class at Sandra Day O'Connor High School north of Phoenix.

He began his first year of classes at the University of Arizona on Monday in the Bachelor of Science in Medicine program at the College of Medicine – Tucson. He's minoring in Spanish and is also a student in the W.A. Franke Honors College.

Having spent his academic life in programs designed for gifted students, Borowski has always wondered why some people can grasp certain concepts easier and faster than others. He hasn't found any satisfying answers in the research he's read.

"The public perception is that, if someone is gifted, it just means they're really smart. I guess that's true in essence, but it's not the whole truth," Borowski said. "I want to understand how it works."

He plans to do just that as a first-year medicine major intent on diving into psychology, neuroscience and related topics.

A longstanding appreciation for educators

Borowski grew up in New River, Arizona, north of Phoenix, where homes are spread out across sprawling desert.

Borowski's father, also named Tadeusz, is a pharmacist. His mother, Leticia, earned an undergraduate degree in early childhood education and stayed home with Borowski and his younger sister, Zoja, starting her children's education early with home lessons. Borowski's mom started teaching him to read when he was 2.

His parents were young when Borowski was born, and their limited income was challenging for several years, he said. When Borowski was 4, his mother had a stroke, caused by a hereditary condition that caused her to have seizures for the next five years.

Despite her health struggles and the Borowskis' other challenges, they remained committed to their lessons for their children, something that still resonates with Borowski today.

The commitment paid off. When he was about 8 or 9, Borowski recalls, he read through his mother's books from college, including "There Are No Shortcuts," Rafe Esquith's memoir about teaching gifted fifth graders in Los Angeles.

"It taught me the effort educators put in every single day, and really inspired me to give back to them," he said.

Before long, Borowski was in a program for gifted students at Canyon Springs STEM Academy, a public school in New River that serves kindergarten through eighth grade.

In third grade, he began a campaign to recognize his school's teachers, filling bags with gift cards and other items that he asked the principal to distribute during Teacher Appreciation Week, a national celebration in May recognized by National PTA and the National Education Association.

His campaign evolved over the years to also recognize students for anti-bullying efforts.

A page from the Sandra Day O'Connor playbook

By eighth grade, Borowski had completed all his core ninth-grade classes a year early. He moved to Sandra Day O'Connor High School, where he continued in a program for gifted students.

It soon became clear that Borowski could easily graduate high school a year early. But after taking a few core classes in the summer, he convinced himself he could shave off one more year.

His high school counselors, shocked by his request, thought Borowski's timeline was ambitious, he said – but he was up for the challenge. He took summer classes, then spent his sophomore year – his final year of high school – taking six Advanced Placement classes and six first-year college-level classes.

"It really just made sense to me, because if I was only going to be doing some elective classes, why not just go ahead and get it all done in two years," he said.

He said he drew inspiration from his high school's namesake. O'Connor, the first woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, grew up in Arizona and enrolled at Stanford University at age 16.

Even while he was cramming for Advanced Placement exams, Borowski continued his campaigns to recognize his teachers and classmates, which he eventually turned into fundraising efforts. In 2018 and 2019, he focused his campaign on teachers and students who made efforts to promote kindness, creating a GoFundMe page to fund monetary gifts. The campaign gave out a total of about $500 to students and teachers, Borowski estimated.

Borowski changed the campaign's focus at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and began raising money for families in need, giving out about $700, he said.

Borowski was 15 when he graduated in May, giving him the distinction of being the youngest member of his class.

"It was definitely awkward being the youngest there," he said. "But I was proud, too. I tacked on 12 classes my last semester and managed to pull through."

On a quest to 'know the whys'

Borowski initially applied to UArizona because of its medical school.

After applying to 15 universities, he said most saw the college credits on his transcript and treated him like any other transfer student.

"The U of A was probably the first school that reached out and fought for me to be here," he said. "That was a huge draw – even though in reality I was just another one of the 50,000-plus students here, the counselors are willing to fight and put in the effort to have you as part of the university."

After seeing Borowski's transcript, it was Angie Valdez, assistant director of internal scholarships in the Franke Honors College, who emailed him, urging him to apply for a scholarship that he was likely eligible for. Proactively reaching out to students to help connect them to financial aid is something Valdez has done many times in her nearly two decades at the university.

"I'm always interested in getting to know students not just as a number, but as individuals, and being there for students who don't really know the process," Valdez said.

Borowski is attending the university on several scholarships that he found largely through Scholarship Universe, a UArizona-created online tool that matches admitted students with scholarships offered by the university and outside organizations.

As Borowski joins another class – as one of the youngest members once again – he said he's excited to be with many like-minded students in the Franke Honors College who have worked hard to expand their education and want to know the "whys" as much as he does.

"This experience is just going to solidify that – being out here on my own for the sole purpose of learning," he said. "It's a good feeling."


Resources for the Media

Media Contact(s)