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Test for Stanford after impostor passes as a student

O.C. woman is accused of living on campus for eight months.

May 26, 2007|Richard C. Paddock and Jennifer Delson | Times Staff Writers

PALO ALTO — Azia Kim arrived at Stanford University last fall from Fullerton and took up residence on campus at Kimball Hall.

She ate in the dining hall and seemed to do her homework, often working late into the night on school papers. She told people she was a human biology major and talked about her upcoming exams.

There was only one problem: She had not been admitted as a student.

Relying on the generosity and friendliness of Stanford's students, the Fullerton Troy High School graduate managed to keep up the pretense for eight months, until she was found out this week, according to university officials, Kim's friends and news accounts.

Kim was asked to leave the campus within hours of being discovered Monday. Stanford officials said they would investigate how the 18-year-old could have evaded security procedures designed to limit access to residence halls, university computers and dining rooms, and determine if any laws were broken.

"We consider these allegations, if confirmed, to be a serious breach of security within the residence halls," Greg Boardman, vice provost for student affairs, said Friday. "We are conducting a full investigation into what occurred and how security can be improved."

Neither Kim nor her family could be located for comment.

As details of Kim's stay at Stanford emerged, Stanford officials said Friday that they would order another alleged impostor to stay away from the campus. The woman allegedly posed as a researcher and lived at the university's Varian Physics lab for four years even though she had no affiliation with the university, the Stanford Daily student newspaper reported.

"We recognize that this allegation, following earlier reports of an individual falsely impersonating an undergraduate, raises important questions about campus security," Jeffrey H. Wachtel, senior assistant to President John L. Hennessy, said in a statement.

Even with the security concerns, some Stanford students expressed sympathy for Kim.

"Like everyone else, I was freaked out at first because of the security violation," said sophomore Wilson Velasco, 19. "Now I'm just sorry for her. To be that desperate, something's got to be wrong."

Other students suggested that anyone clever enough to pull off such a charade deserved to attend the famously selective university, where tuition, room and board cost more than $45,000 a year.

"She seemed like a regular student," said a sophomore from Houston who lives in Kimball Hall and used to see Kim in the dining room, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "People are saying, 'She managed to stay for eight months; they should let her in.' "

Kim was described by some as kind, generous and not very competitive. She appeared to have formed close friendships with some of the students at Kimball.

On May 17, four days before her unmasking, she wrote in a blog on Xanga.com: "I get too caught up in looking forward to summer and going home that I forget to be thankful for the beautiful people God has placed into my life. I love Stanford."

While Stanford officials would not confirm her name or discuss details of the case, they say she took advantage of students' generous, trusting nature.

"Stanford is a remarkably caring and friendly community," Boardman said. "It is unfortunate that some may be able to take advantage of that trust for their own ends."

According to the Stanford Daily, Kim arrived from Orange County in September, at the time of freshman orientation, and met two female students who lived at Kimball. Claiming that she did not get along with her roommate in another residence hall, Kim persuaded the duo to let her move in with them.

For some reason, the resident advisors who are supposed to supervise the students did not notice her presence or realize that three students were living in a room designed for two. Kim's situation was discovered Monday when the residence hall staffers finally became suspicious and determined they had no record of her being a student.

It is unclear how Kim entered Kimball since she didn't have a key, but she may have waited outside the busy hall for entering or departing students to open the door.

Residents said they frequently saw her using the student lounge, sometimes seeming to study while on her laptop computer, other times sleeping. It is unclear if she attended classes.

One student who asked not to be identified said she saw Kim using a campus computer in the residence hall's locked study room. Entry requires a key, but students said they often open the door for one another. It is unclear how she could have obtained a password to use a campus computer.

Getting into the dining hall would have been easier, students said. Residents must swipe their meal cards when they enter, but sometimes students sneak in by pretending they have already checked in and are going back to refill their cup.

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