The Hub AU grad balances high-level academics with high-level athletics

AU grad balances high-level academics with high-level athletics

By: Doug Neuman

Andrei Afilipoaei continued to play tennis professionally while earning 35 A-plusses in a Bachelor of Science, Applied Mathematics 

Andrei Afilipoaei (Bachelor of Science, Applied Mathematics ’23) started at Athabasca University (AU) when he was just 15 years old. What better fit for a kid who had already graduated high school, aced his SATs, and needed the flexibility to also pursue a professional tennis career? 

His typical day would start around 7 a.m. He’d wake up in his Calgary, Alta., home, eat a light breakfast of toast and maybe some fruit, and then immediately go train. After about two hours on the tennis court—often preparing for a weekend tournament—he’d head back home and eat something more substantial. Eggs and sausage, for example, were often on the menu to help fuel the day of studying that lay ahead of him. 

For the next 10 hours, he would hit the books, only taking breaks when he needed to clear his head, recharge, and get some perspective on what he was studying. Most days, he would study until 9 or even 11 p.m. 

All this hard work paid off. Afilipoaei finished his undergraduate degree at AU with 35 A-plusses, published research in a peer-reviewed journal, and won the 2024 Governor General’s Silver Medal, which is awarded each year to the undergraduate student with the highest marks. 

“To reach high levels, you need an advanced focus on details,” he said. “The difference between an A and a B is just the minor details.” 

Andrei Afilipoaei (Bachelor of Science, Applied Mathematics '23) balanced his online learning with a professional tennis career.

AU grad excelled academically and athletically from a young age

Afilipoaei was driven to succeed from a very young age, and always had a particular affinity for mathematics. His mother is a mathematician and computer scientist, so math and technology were always part of his life. 

In elementary he would take part in math competitions, often earning top-three finishes among students in all of Canada. 

Around age 11, he was considering an online high school offered at Stanford University. They recommended he take the SATs, so after a few months of preparing, he did, with great success. He scored in the top eight per cent of all time, earning a national award in the process. 

Afilipoaei did not end up attending that high school, instead opting to return to Calgary. His principal at his junior high school suggested finishing grades 7-9 would be “a waste of time,” so he enrolled with the now-defunct Alberta Distance Learning Centre (ADLC). 

This distance-education option allowed him to complete his high school diploma at his own pace, while scheduling his assignments and exams around his professional tennis career—at the time he was the top-ranked player in Alberta in his age group and had competed in the United States and Europe as well. 

“Doing high school with ADLC allowed me the flexibility to also be able to travel and compete as needed,” he said. “Another advantage of that was I could also study throughout the year and not have necessarily on and off seasons, which was also beneficial.” 

“I would very much recommend that hard work and diligence is crucial.”

– Andrei Afilipoaei, 2024 Governor General Silver Medal winner

A flexible online education at AU

When Afilipoaei finished high school at age 14, he wasted no time in continuing his education, choosing Athabasca University because he wanted the same flexibility that allowed him to pursue his tennis career while completing high school. 

Being able to schedule big exams in consideration of his other obligations, for example, made it easy for him to be able to focus on his athletics when that’s what he needed to do. 

“If I knew I had an upcoming tournament, for example, I would try to steer clear of that for an exam,” he said. “I either put the exam before or a couple of weeks after so I knew I had time to study for it.” 

The other advantage that made a difference for Afilipoaei was being able to do his courses self-paced. He describes himself as “a bit of a perfectionist,” and appreciated being able to spend extra time on assignments, where needed, to achieve the high standards he set for himself. 

When the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted so many things in the world in 2020, he put a pause on his professional tennis career and chose to instead focus all his time and efforts on academics—which involved taking his work to the next level. 

“I might be interested in going back, but for now I’m interested in pursuing a more academic path,” he said. 

Publishing academic research as an undergraduate

Afilipoaei was not expecting to publish research while earning his bachelor’s degree, but the opportunity arose when he was doing a Mathematics Project course. His supervisor, Dr. Gustavo Carrero, worked with him to expand the project into a published article. 

The project focused on studying financial trends by modelling optimism and pessimism in an asset market—the housing market for example—providing important insight into market behaviour. The model was able to replicate historical bubble prices, such as the Dutch tulip-mania bubble in the 1630s or the dot-com bubble of the late 1990s, and demonstrate behavioural and social factors in this kind of bubble. 

“Oftentimes markets don’t reflect the true value of something,” he said. “They only reflect what people think the true value is and those people often don’t really do their homework and due diligence as well as they should.” 

As a result, in most of these cases, the people who invest in these kinds of assets risk taking a significant loss on their investment. People can make money if they get out at the right time, Afilipoaei said, “but there’s always someone stuck with a hot potato,” which is what happened in the 1929 stock market crash. 

What the research found is that while you can’t always rely on consumers of any particular product to behave rationally, consumers nonetheless often behave predictably. Understanding that large groups of people often behave in predictably irrational ways can provide insight into modern economic phenomena, such as the fluctuating prices of cryptocurrencies. 

“Oftentimes markets don't reflect the true value of something. They only reflect what people think the true value is and those people often don't really do their homework and due diligence as well as they should.””

– Andrei Afilipoaei, discussing the research he published as an undergraduate student at AU

Graduate studies and career aspirations

After completing his undergraduate degree in 2023—just past the cutoff to walk across the convocation stage, which is why he’s convocating in 2024—Afilipoaei wasted no time in putting his extensive experience to good use, registering for a master’s program. 

He started working on the master of modelling, data, and predictions at the University of Alberta in September 2023, and will be half finished the program by the time he celebrates convocation in Athabasca. 

“It combines applied mathematics, which is my background, with computing statistics, data analytics and artificial intelligence,” he said. “So it’s a good all-around kind of program.” 

While this program is not thesis-based—instead focusing on coursework that will allow him to land a good job when he finishes next year—Afilipoaei does intend to continue with publishing research if he’s able to. In fact, he has already discussed with Carrero how they build on their existing work and keep publishing on similar topics. 

But for now, he’s focused on achieving his master’s degree, noting he would not be where he is today without support from his family and from his instructors at AU. 

For others looking to pursue a similar path at a similarly high level of achievement, the advice he offers is simple: “I would very much recommend that hard work and diligence is crucial.” 

  • June 19, 2024
Guest Blog from:
Doug Neuman