Local high school senior challenges himself in Northwestern classes and beyond


Noah Frick-Alofs/Daily Senior Staffer

Ethan Schonfeld. Schonfeld is training for the swimming Olympic trials.

Clare Proctor, Reporter

Ethan Schonfeld walked into room 107 of Lunt Hall on the first day of Northwestern’s Fall Quarter. A Glenbrook North High School senior, Schonfeld anticipated being the only high school student in Mathematics 291, Intensive Linear Algebra and Multivariable Calculus.

The first person he saw, however, was his friend from math team, another high school senior.

“To find out I was not unique was a shock, was a nice surprise,” Schonfeld said. “What also shocked me on the first day was just how welcoming everyone was.”

Schonfeld is now in his second quarter of the 291 sequence, balancing homework that is “nothing like high school” with the rest of his life, he said. After a full day of classes, both at Glenbrook North and NU, Schonfeld heads to Glenview Titan Aquatic Club for swimming practice, he said.

Schonfeld started swimming in third grade, and said he “just wanted out” for the first two years, but his parents encouraged him to continue with it. Nine years later, Schonfeld is training to earn a national championship-qualifying time in the 100-meter breaststroke, he said.

“That’s the goal this summer,” he said. “And it’s a pretty lofty goal, but it’s an expectation I have for myself.”

Steve Iida, Schonfeld’s coach at the aquatic club, has been coaching the senior for just over a year, he said. The “elite club” attracted Schonfeld, particularly because Iida previously coached an Olympic swimming champion, Olivia Smoliga, Schonfeld said.

Schonfeld’s determination, as well as his “willingness to fail,” struck Iida when he first started coaching the swimmer. Iida said he doesn’t want to put “a grain of doubt” in Schonfeld’s head about his goal to qualify for the Olympic trials in 2020.

“If Ethan thinks he’s going to do it, I don’t see why not,” Iida said. “In Ethan’s case, he has a lot of talent, and I don’t put it over on him.”

When Schonfeld isn’t swimming laps in the pool or doing his math problem sets, he spends time shadowing and researching with Dr. Ricardo Senno at Senno Group Wellness & Rehabilitation.

Since eighth grade, Schonfeld has immersed himself in the lives of dementia patients who are under Senno’s care. Seeing the suffering caused by the disease was “shocking,” Schonfeld said.

“I watched people fall, I watched people go to the bathroom in the middle of the building,” he said. “As a 14-year-old, it was jarring to see that.”

The research Schonfeld has done with Senno centers on the correlation between hearing loss and falls in people with dementia, Schonfeld said. The pair will be presenting this research, as well as an algorithm Schonfeld created to predict the likelihood of patients falling, at a conference in Toronto this November.

The algorithm stems from complex mathematical analysis of the data to predict which patients are most likely to fall, which determines who should be housed closest to the nurse’s station, Senno said. Schonfeld did this project on his own, Senno said, and since Schonfeld has “proven himself” as responsible throughout his time with Senno, the doctor respects Schonfeld’s work.

“It’s not just like he comes with an idea,” Senno said. “He comes with the idea, the process and then almost the end product.”

Seeking out unsolved answers is fundamental to Schonfeld’s personality, he said. To him, it’s “just fun to challenge yourself.”

Schonfeld has wanted to be a doctor since he was four years old, his mom, Alla Schonfeld, said.

“We were in Toys R Us, and there was a stethoscope set and scrubs, and he asked me to buy it for him,” Alla Schonfeld said. “It was always something about being a doctor that was exciting.”

The younger Schonfeld’s academic plan remains going to medical school, he said. He initially considered applying for the Honors Program in Medical Education through the Feinberg School of Medicine, but due to his exposure researching dementia, he wants to pursue neuroscience in his undergraduate studies.

Despite being undecided on where to attend college next year, Northwestern remains “very, very high” on Schonfeld’s list, he said, largely due to his experience in Math 291.

“I think it was the second day (of the quarter), I was telling my mom, we were just walking through Evanston, I think at Blaze Pizza, and I was saying I would really, really love to go to this school,” Schonfeld said. “It had this element that really, really felt welcoming and really felt special.”

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