Champion figure skater thrives at MIT

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“Representing the Skating Club of Boston, please welcome now, Kevin Shum!” says the announcer at the 2018 U.S. Collegiate National Championship in Adrian, Michigan. Shum, wearing a sparkly dark-blue-and-black jumpsuit, begins his free skate performance to “The Sound of Silence” by Disturbed.

According to Shum, an MIT senior majoring in computer science with a concentration in theater arts, life is about discovering and pursuing passions. Shum is a two-time collegiate champion figure skater and has traveled across the nation and around the world with Team USA’s world junior team. Despite competitive figure skating’s intense environment, the freedom of skating without restrictions or boundaries has sustained Shum’s passion for the sport and has even contributed to his success at MIT.

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Shum grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and first got involved with figure skating at age 6. What started as a hobby quickly evolved into a passion. At age 10, Shum performed in his first skating competition. “I love the big arenas. I love the bright lights. I love the big audience,” Shum says. “It’s a pretty surreal feeling.”

Shum is also passionate about his work at MIT. Here, Shum has participated in an Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) through the MIT Media Lab. In addition, Shum is an active student blogger for the Office of Admissions, where he writes freely about his MIT experience, internships, projects, travels, and skating. He especially enjoyed writing posts about the time he spent in Germany while participating in the MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives Global Teaching Labs (MISTI GTL) during Independent Activities Period (IAP) in 2018. While there, Shum taught computer science to high school students, and shortly thereafter traveled to Zurich, Switzerland, for the inaugural exchange program between ETH Zurich and the MIT Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

Recently, Shum worked on a project for the class 6.810 (Engineering Interactive Technologies). He and a partner applied concepts related to adaptive sports to the process of learning to ride a skateboard. Shum’s skateboard detects a rider’s skill level by monitoring how often the board wobbles, and it shrinks or expands in length to fit the rider’s abilities.

Each semester, Shum trains at the Cronin Skating Rink in Revere, Massachusetts, up to six days a week for two hours a day. Training includes both on- and off-ice preparation: practicing jumps and footwork on the ice, body conditioning and strengthening at the gym, physical therapy, and a lot of stretching. This Independent Activities Period, Shum is competing in the 2019 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Detroit, Michigan, skating to Frank Sinatra’s rendition of “Luck Be a Lady” from the musical “Guys and Dolls.”

His extraordinary commitment to skating has taught Shum to manage and prioritize his time working in the classroom, doing research, and completing projects; applying learning from one passion to another. “If there’s something I want to accomplish, I know I just need to put in the work, put in those hours. Work smart, work hard, and get it done,” he says. “I know I only have 24 hours in a day. It has really forced me to really be intentional about what I spend my time on.”