Meet this 17 year old who has two college degrees, flies planes, author, works at NASA, but says he ‘isn’t that special’
Moshe Kai Cavalin from San Gabriel, California at a young age of 17 not only has two college degrees but also flies airplanes. However, he cannot drive a car, as he is too young to drive alone.
Cavalin, who has achieved major milestones graduated from community college when he was just 11. He then got a Bachelor’s in Math from the University of California, Los Angeles four years later.
He has started online classes this year to get a master’s in cybersecurity through the Boston area’s Brandeis University. Since Cavalin assists NASA in developing surveillance technology for airplanes and drones, he has decided to put his master’s degree on hold for a couple of terms.
In the midst of all this, he has stacked up a tiring list of extracurricular achievements. Based on his own experience of being bullied along with stories heard from other, he has recently published his second book on the same. Besides this, by the end of this year, he has plans to get his airplane pilot’s license. Further, he has a trove of trophies from martial arts tournaments at his family’s home near Los Angeles.
However, Cavalin maintains that he’s more ordinary than people think. He believes that years of focused instruction by his parents balanced by freedom allowed him to pick his after-school activities. He said that his cultural heritage is due to his Taiwanese mother and Brazilian father which is the reason for his eclectic interests.
After a recent shift at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California, he says “My case isn’t that special. It’s just a combination of parenting and motivation and inspiration. I tend to not compare myself that often to other people. I just try to do the best I can.”
He was always quick in his study, say Calavin’s parents. His first word came at 4 months when he pointed to a jet in the sky and said the Chinese word for airplane. When he studied trigonometry at age 7, he hit the limits of his home schooling. After this, his mom began to take him to community college.
Daniel Judge, a professor of mathematics who taught Cavalin for two years at East Los Angeles College, said “I think most people just think he’s a genius, they believe it just comes naturally. He actually worked harder than, I think, any other student I’ve ever had.”
But, his quick rise has not been without twists. He dreamt of being an astrophysicist, while early in college. However, his interest started fading away when he started taking advanced physics classes. His fascination in cryptography led him toward computer science.
Cavalin said that has been a better fit. When NASA called him to offer work, he was astonished as NASA had rejected him in the past because of his age. His boss and mentor at NASA, Ricardo Arteaga says Cavalin was perfect for a project that combines computers, math, and aircraft technology.
“I needed an intern who knew software and knew mathematical algorithms,” Arteaga says. “And I also needed a pilot who could fly it on a Cessna.
Arteaga says that Cavalin is a quiet worker with a subtle sense of humor in the office. They laugh about the stuff scientists. His daily work at NASA has included running simulations of airplanes and drones that are headed for collision, and then finding ways to route them to safety.
“He’s really sharp in mathematics,” Arteaga says. “What we’re trying to bring out more is his intuitive skills.”
In conversation, Cavalin speaks with the even cadence and diction of someone who chooses his words with care. He’s cool and calm, at least until he talks about his aversion for being called a certain word: “One word I don’t take too kindly is genius,” he said. “Genius is just kind of taking it too far.”
Cavalin hopes to get a master’s in business at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology after he finishes his master’s from Brandeis. He wants to begin his own cybersecurity company later.
As of now, he is waiting to get a full driver’s license under California law which will happen when he turns 18. He depends on his landlord for rides to the grocery store, or he takes a taxi, as he lives away from home to work at NASA. Also, he gets a ride to work by his older colleagues everyday.
Talking about the other teenage stuff, Cavalin says he will wait until he gets his doctorate degree to find a girlfriend, which he is only half-joking.