Teenager flies planes, has two degrees, works at NASA In this photo from 2008, a then 10-year-old Moshe Kai Cavalin is seen with his East Los Angeles College Math instructor Daniel Judge. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
Teenager flies planes, has two degrees, works at NASA
Lexile

Moshe Kai Cavalin has two university degrees. But he's too young to vote. He flies airplanes. But he's too young to drive a car alone.
 
Life is filled with contrasts for Cavalin. He is a 17-year-old from San Gabriel, California. He has dashed by major milestones as his age seems to lag behind. He graduated from community college at age 11. Four years later, he had a bachelor's in math from the University of California, Los Angeles.
 
This year, he started online classes to get a master's in cybersecurity through the Boston area's Brandeis University. He decided to postpone that pursuit for a couple of terms, though.  Instead, he will help NASA develop surveillance technology for airplanes and drones.
 
Between all that, he's racked up an exhausting list of extracurricular feats. He just published his second book, drawing on his experience being bullied and stories he's heard from others. He plans to have his airplane pilot's license by the year's end. At his family's home near Los Angeles, he has a trove of trophies from martial arts tournaments.
 
Still, Cavalin insists that he's more ordinary than people think. He credits his parents for years of focused instruction balanced by the freedom to pick his after-school activities. His eclectic interests stem from his cultural heritage, he said, with a mother from Taiwan and a father from Brazil.
 
"My case isn't that special. It's just a combination of parenting and motivation and inspiration," he says after a recent shift at NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California. "I tend to not compare myself that often to other people. I just try to do the best I can."
 
His parents say he was always a quick study. At 4 months, he pointed to a jet in the sky and said the Chinese word for airplane, his first word. Cavalin hit the limits of his home schooling after studying trigonometry at age 7. Then his mom started driving him to community college.
 
"I think most people just think he's a genius, they believe it just comes naturally," said Daniel Judge. He's a professor of mathematics who taught Cavalin for two years at East Los Angeles College. "He actually worked harder than, I think, any other student I've ever had."
 
But his rapid rise hasn't been without twists. Early in college, he dreamed of being an astrophysicist. When he started taking advanced physics classes, though, his interest waned. His fascination in cryptography led him toward computer science.
 
That has been a better fit, Cavalin said. He was surprised when NASA called to offer work after rejecting him in the past because of his age. Ricardo Arteaga, his boss and mentor at NASA, says Cavalin was perfect for a project that combines math, computers 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."
 
In the office, Cavalin is a quiet worker with a subtle sense of humor, Arteaga says. They laugh about the stuff scientists laugh about. 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 unflappable, at least until he discusses his distaste 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."
 
After he finishes his master's from Brandeis, Cavalin hopes to get a master's in business at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Later, he wants to start his own cybersecurity company.
 
For now, though, he's counting down the days until his 18th birthday, when he'll be able to get a full driver's license under California law. Living away from home to work at NASA, he relies on his landlord for rides to the grocery store, or he takes a taxi. His older colleagues drive him to work every day.
 
As for the other teenage stuff, Cavalin says he'll wait until he gets his doctorate degree to find a girlfriend. He's only half-joking.

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why was Moshe a perfect fit for NASA?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (184)
  • nicolettem-2-bar
    11/09/2015 - 03:07 p.m.

    Moshe was a perfect fit for NASA because they were working on a new project that consisted of math, aircraft technology, and compulter work and MOshe was good at all those things.

  • maxx-ver
    11/09/2015 - 05:58 p.m.

    WOW! I surprised that he has two university degrees and works at NASA even though he is 17

    • yusuft-jac
      11/17/2015 - 12:07 a.m.

      I agree with you maxx-ver about how you are surprised that he has two university degrees and works for NASA even though he is 17 but I think you shouldn't be surprised because Moshe studied hard and worked hard. Also he didn't slack off. So, this shows that you shouldn't be surprised from this because this article tells you how he did this.

  • nicolea-6-bar
    11/09/2015 - 10:58 p.m.

    Moshe was a perfect fit for NASA because in paragraph 10, Cavalin's boss, Ricardo Artega stated, "I needed an intern who knew software and knew mathematical algorithms, and I also needed a pilot who could fly it on a Cessna." Moshe could offer all this. I found this article very intriguing because it's weird to me that a boy at age 7 could be learning trigonometry, which is 9 years ahead of his normal grade. It was very interesting to know how smart and intelligent some kids are.

  • isabellaw-1-bar
    11/09/2015 - 11:49 p.m.

    Moshe was a perfect fit for NASA because the job he was given included math, computer, and aircraft technology which he succeeds. "Arteaga, his boss and mentor at NASA, says Cavalin was perfect for a project that combines math, computers and aircraft technology." Paragraph 10.

    I found this article very interesting because boy my age is already in collage while i am in 8th grade.

  • thomasl-wes
    11/10/2015 - 09:15 a.m.

    Moshe was a perfect fit for NASA because he had all the qualifications to work there. He has 2 degrees and has a great personality.

  • nanm-wes
    11/10/2015 - 09:18 a.m.

    Moshe was the perfect fit for NASA because he was good at math,air craft and good with dealing with computer.He was also smart and work harder then any other student.That why Moshe was the perfect fit for NASA.?

  • brandons-wes
    11/10/2015 - 09:20 a.m.

    Mosh was a prefect fit for NASA. Because in the story it states that NASA needed him beacuse the job included computers,math,and aircraft technology.

  • tylerm1-wes
    11/10/2015 - 09:21 a.m.

    He helps NASA develop surveillance technology for airplanes and drones

  • yusufh-wes
    11/10/2015 - 09:21 a.m.

    I think that Moshe fits perfect for NASA is because he could help NASA develop surveillance technology for airplanes and drones.

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