International chess master, Idaho native, praises STEM and Computer Science Initiative

For many, chess is learned at a young age. But one Treasure Valley teen is making a name for himself in the competitive sphere before his 18th birthday.

Luke Harmon-Vellotti is just 17 years old and he’s already the “international chess master.” He says he became the number one player in Idaho when he was just 11.

Three years after being named the best in the state, he went off to UCLA, where he’s double majoring in Math and Computer Science.

He says the same skills are needed in STEM – Science, technology, engineering and math – as in chess.

“When you do chess you get really good at problem solving, concentration, focus, seeing all the different angles,” Harmon-Vellotti said. “All of those attributes are helpful for STEM.”

But Luke said he wishes Idaho’s new STEM Action Center would have been around when he was younger. He praises the Computer Science initiative that’s now pushing to teach computer science to kids at a younger age.

“STEM is going to be what the future is,” he said. “Especially computer science. So I think it’s really good for these people to have more opportunity to see these things.”

His brother Carl, who is also a chess expert attending UCLA, agrees.

“I think if I had seen it earlier on, it would have been something I really enjoyed when I was younger and I would have had those basics building up. But it’s hard to just jump in,” Carl said.

Like many, Carl said he got introduced to computer science too late. He wasn’t introduced to it until the 11th grade.

“At that point I just had no basis for even understanding it,” he said.

Luke says he didn’t get introduced to computer science until he enrolled in AP classes in high school, but that chess has taught him valuable traits he’s now applying toward his STEM education.

He and his brother will both graduate in May and plan to move back to the Treasure Valley to launch their own start-up company.


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