Disarming, that’s Oscar Ho.
A smile that’s never far away, coupled with just the right matter-of-fact tone, allows him to make observations that you find wonderfully self-assured and that never stray into the presumptuous or the impertinent.
Make no mistake: If you don’t have this teen immigrant’s charm, you can’t say, as he did, “I only knew three words of English when I came to the U.S., so it took me a year to learn the language before I could get all A’s” and not have people practically gagging on your arrogance.
That this high school sophomore’s calm confidence is appreciated by both young and old at Cimarron-Memorial High School reflects in his duties. Teachers have him give tours to visitors of the school’s manufacturing technology section; students voted him president of the robotics team, which won its first competition this year.
“He’s one of those exceptional kids that’s very mature for his age,” said Marc Rogers, a science teacher and a robotics team coach. “He’s like having another teacher around.”
I met Oscar on a recent tour of the school’s manufacturing technology section. Soon after, he said, “there are a plethora of good reasons for increased technical programs in American schools today.” I suspected he was in college doing his student teaching at the school.
“No, I’m just 15,” he said. “Nvidia, the computer technology firm, made the same kind of mistake last summer. They offered me a paid internship because they thought I had graduated. Unfortunately, I was too young to take the offer.”
It was then I was introduced to Oscar’s trademark smile and that matter-of-fact tone. Absolutely no hubris detected.
He came to the United States from Hong Kong eight years ago with his American stepfather, then in the Air Force, and Chinese mother. He learned English in New Mexico by attending language courses before and after school.
“I was surprised he learned English so fast but he really studies everything,” said his stepfather, Max McIntyre, who is retired but working in fire suppression at Nellis Air Force Base.
His mother, Phobe McIntyre, said her son started school when he was 2 years old in Hong Kong. She said he has always liked to learn and is studying to earn his citizenship.
After attending schools in New Mexico and California, Oscar came to Las Vegas during eighth grade.
At Becker Middle School, Ho had a teacher, Raul Padron, who excited him about robotics.
After graduating from Cimarron, he plans to study robotics at the renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“A teacher can make such a positive difference,” he said. “Of course, a teacher can also be a negative. But you must be mature enough not to let a bad teacher ruin subject matter forever that you may actually like.”
Oscar, an A student, takes college-level calculus and history along with honors courses and robotics.
He said it’s important for him to do well in school, not only so he can work at NASA one day, but also to help other students. Robotics teacher Cody Wall said Oscar already does this regularly.
“I’m motivated by opportunities in this country and by my parents,” Oscar said. “But some students aren’t motivated. I try to show them what they can do when they apply themselves. When they get excited and do well, it’s a great feeling.”
Paul Harasim’s column runs Sunday, Tuesday and Friday in the Nevada section and Monday in the Health section. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-5273. Follow @paulharasim on Twitter.