There are a number of reasons why Moshe Cavalin stands out in his MBA class at Arizona State University’s W. P. Carey School of Business. He can fly a plane. He’s interned at NASA. The MBA, which he will expect to receive in 2018, will be his second graduate degree.
There’s another thing that sets Moshe apart from his colleagues: He’s still a teenager.
Cavalin is the youngest MBA candidate at the W. P. Carey School — by a long shot. Yet at 19 years old, this might be the closest he’s ever been to his classmates’ average age.
‘I PREFER SPENDING TIME WITH OLDER PEOPLE’
The Los Angeles native began attending community college at 8 years old. He transferred to UCLA at 12, graduated with a degree in math, and at 16 enrolled in an online master’s program in cybersecurity at Brandeis University.
“It was a challenge when everyone was so much older than me,” Cavalin says. “But some of my closest friends today are people I met back in community college, who acted as big brothers and sisters. It started off as a bit of a joke, but they opened their minds to a young person being in a class with them, and now I prefer spending time with older people.”
Cavalin is still spending time with older people. The average age in his class at the W. P. Carey School is about 29, making him around a decade younger than his peers.
WHAT W. P. CAREY SAW IN A TEENAGER
In fact, Cavalin is the youngest MBA candidate ever accepted to the W. P. Carey School, and likely among the youngest in the U.S. at any school. MBA candidates of his age are extremely rare at B-schools, even more so at the top schools. In testing year 2016, the Graduate Management Admissions Council reports administering over 250,000 GMAT exams, only 1,464 of which were delivered to candidates under 20 years old. Many of those may have taken the exam multiple times, GMAC reports.
Stephen Taylor, assistant dean of graduate programs at the W. P. Carey School, says the admissions committee was beyond impressed by Cavalin, who “epitomizes” what they look for: students who will thrive at a university steeped in innovation. But his prodigy-like accomplishments weren’t his only asset. Taylor says Cavalin showed maturity beyond his years.
“We valued his relevant work experience at NASA, his diverse interests, and his ability to communicate his transferrable skills,” Taylor says. “He has many unique talents and abilities that we felt he would bring to the class — his mathematics degree and cybersecurity experience, and he’s a pilot, a pianist, and is accomplished in the martial arts.
“We saw in Moshe someone who clearly sets goals and accomplishes them.”
THANKS TO MOM AND DAD
Cavalin credits his parents with his rapid education. His father was a professor at two universities, but quit teaching at one to spend more time with his son. His mother stopped pursuing her CPA for the same reason. Together, the couple homeschooled the boy until he was 7 or 8 years old.
At that point, they tried enrolling him in school — both public and private — but he was too far ahead and wasn’t allowed to skip enough grades. So his parents enrolled him in community college classes at 8 years old. From 2006 to 2009 Cavalin took one class per semester until he graduated with his associate’s degree.
He stayed one more year to take extra math classes, then transferred to UCLA. “My mom was pretty much my 24/7 companion,” he says. “She drove me to school and even waited outside classrooms to take me home.”
TOO YOUNG FOR INTERNSHIPS, UNTIL HE WASN’T
Skipping ahead so fast didn’t always make for smooth sailing. Cavalin’s age made it hard for him to get internships. When he was 16, he applied to multiple NASA centers, but he was rejected, and he thinks it was probably because of his age. “They implied they didn’t have enough experience with a person my age working there,” he says.
But the next year, while working on his degree from Brandeis, he got a call from the NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California. Ricardo Arteaga, who would become his mentor, had a project he wanted Cavalin to work on.
“He said he was impressed by my resume,” Cavalin says. “It reminded him of his own background. He also got a pilot’s license when he was young, he was a couple years ahead of his peers, and he went to a UC for college. It just seemed like a natural fit, and I’m very grateful to him for reaching out. Thanks to his open-mindedness, I ended up at NASA.”
At NASA, Cavalin worked on software to help drones and airplanes avoid hitting things — or each other — in the air. He helped commercialize the software, too, which sparked an interest in program and product management. So when his internship was over, he went back to work finishing his master’s degree at Brandeis, but he already knew he wanted to get an MBA.
DIVERSIFYING HIS SKILLS
His interest in business piqued, Cavalin says he worried his background was too technical. “I don’t want to be stuck in only engineering jobs,” he says. “And I don’t want to get a Ph.D. and stay in academia.”
So he explored the Arizona State MBA program, which several years ago began offering free tuition to every student. Cavalin says the free tuition, as well as the new entrepreneurship program at the W. P. Carey School, drew him to the desert.
“A fully funded master’s program is obviously enticing for anyone,” Cavalin says. “But the implications of a free program are also important. The people you end up choosing from become much more diverse — people who wouldn’t have had the opportunity to come to the U.S. or get an MBA otherwise.”
Accepted to W. P. Carey, Cavalin began taking courses in fall 2016, focusing on entrepreneurship and marketing, two skill sets that he says stray far from his technical background.
ENGAGING IN UNDERGRADUATE LIFE
Despite his degrees and many years in higher education, Moshe Cavalin’s age is still having a big impact on his MBA experience.
“I see my age as providing a new sort of perspective to the class. I see the world differently, and can add a fresh perspective,” he says. “But you’ll always have that stigma, like, ‘You’re only 19, what do you know?’”
For the most part, Cavalin says, he’s able hold discussions with his classmates without his age acting as much of an impediment. But then again, he adds, most of his classmates are in a very different life-stage — and some have spouses and kids, which is hard for him to relate to.
“I’m actually trying to engage in the undergraduate life here — joining clubs,” he says. “It’s been challenging from a time-management perspective, but you’ll have that at every stage of life, so it’s a fun challenge.”
Looking ahead to the summer, Cavalin says he’s applying to internships in project management, mostly at tech companies. “I would love to stay in the aerospace and aviation field, but I’m open to any company that creates innovation and changes the way we see things,” he says.
“I’m interested in bridging the gap between technology and business — it’s the best of both worlds.”