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Boy Gets Two College Degrees, Flies Airplanes, Writes 2 Books, Works for NASA, All by the Age of 17

Seventeen is a confusing age for many, but Moshe Kai Cavalin seems to have it all figured out. The California teenager already has two college degrees to his name, he’s a published author, nearly a licensed pilot, and he works for NASA. That’s a lot more than most of us hope to achieve in a lifetime.

Moshe’s been an achiever all his life – he enrolled at the East Los Angeles College when he was only eight years old, becoming the youngest college student in the US. 

He graduated at age nine with a 4.0 GPA, and also wrote a bestselling autobiography that same year. But one college degree apparently wasn’t enough, so at age 15 he graduated from the University of California with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics.

The wonder kid was actually getting ready to earn a third degree this year – a master’s in cybersecurity at Boston’s Brandeis University – but he’s currently put that on hold for a couple of terms to work with NASA. He’s helping the space agency develop surveillance technology for airplanes and drones. 

But that’s not all. Between the ages of nine and 17, Moshe published a second book based on his experience of being bullied. He also learned how to fly a plane and plans to get his pilot’s license by the end of the year. Somehow, he also found the time to dabble in martial arts, winning dozens of trophies and medals at various tournaments.

Despite his monumental achievements, Moshe insists that he’s pretty ordinary and says he’s developed a distaste for the word ‘genius’. “Genius is just kind of taking it too far,” he explained. “My case isn’t that special. It’s just a combination of parenting and motivation and inspiration. I tend not to compare myself that often to other people. I just try to do the best I can.”

Well, what Moshe considers his ‘best’ is obviously far more than what most people can do. According to his parents, he was always a quick learner. He said his first word at four months old, when he pointed out to a jet in the sky and said the Chinese word for it. He started solving math problems at three years old, and when public schools simply couldn’t keep up with his pace, his parents had to homeschool him. Eventually, he outshone his parents as well, and that’s when he started community college.

Interestingly, Moshe’s mathematics professor from college attributes a lot of his achievements to hard work, rather than genius. “I think most people just think he’s a genius, they believe it just comes naturally,” said professor Daniel Judge. “He actually worked harder than, I think, any other student I’ve ever had.” And like all teenagers, Moshe’s had his moments of confusion too. He had dreamed of being an astrophysicist when he was in college, but quickly lost interest after a few advanced physics classes. He instead discovered a passion for cryptography, which led him to computer science.

All of Moshe’s hard work and success did not go unnoticed. NASA recently contacted him about a job, even though they rejected him in the past due to his young age. This time, however, he was the perfect man for the job. “I needed an intern who knew software and knew mathematical algorithms,” said Ricardo Arteaga, Moshe’s boss and mentor at NASA. “And I also needed a pilot who could fly it on a Cessna.”

His job at NASA involves running simulations of airplanes and drones that are about to collide, and find ways to route them to safety. According to Arteaga, Moshe is a quiet worker with a subtle sense of humor. “He’s really sharp in mathematics. What we’re trying to do is bring out more of his intuitive skills.”

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