Moshe Kai Cavalin has two college 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 the 17-year-old from San Gabriel, Calif., who 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 Brandeis University. He decided to postpone that pursuit for a couple of terms, though, while he helps NASA develop surveillance technology for airplanes and drones. He also just published his second book, drawing on his experience being bullied, and plans to have his pilot's license by year's end. "My case isn't that special. It's just a combination of parenting and motivation and inspiration," he says.
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. Moshe 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," says a former professor. "He actually worked harder than, I think, any other student I've ever had." Still, Moshe was surprised when NASA called to offer work after rejecting him in the past because of his age. "I needed an intern who knew software and knew mathematical algorithms," says his boss. "And I also needed a pilot who could fly it on a Cessna." After he finishes his master's from Brandeis, Moshe hopes to get a master's in business at MIT, but he says he'll wait until he gets his doctorate to find a girlfriend.