Tosh Kakar, assistant professor of computer science and computer engineering, entered his Introduction to Engineering class on the first day of the fall semester to find 13-year-old Andrew Carpenter sitting in the front row, ready to begin class.
Kakar had been forewarned about Carpenter’s arrival, but still wondered how he would fit in. He soon discovered his concerns were unfounded.
“Right from the beginning, he blended in well and participated fully,” said Kakar. “It helped the class accept him as an equal.”
Carpenter, who turned 14 last December, is currently the youngest full-time student at PLU. While most eighth graders’ aspirations go no farther than getting their driver’s license, Carpenter has already charted his path to a career in aeronautical engineering, designing planes for Boeing or NASA.
The kid is a genius—but humble.
“I don’t want to seem like I’m bragging all the time by saying I’m 14 and in college,” Carpenter said. “I don’t want people to think I’m a snotty little brat. I just want to make friends.”
When he was eight years old, Carpenter’s intelligence was tested by the University of Washington’s Early Entrance program. It showed he was at the intellectual level of a high school junior in six out of 10 academic subjects, so he entered Chrysalis High School at age nine.
After graduation, he was accepted at the seven colleges he applied to, including Boise State University, Purdue University and the Illinois Institute of Technology. He chose to attend PLU because he was familiar with the campus, and it was close to his family’s home in Lynnwood, Wash.
“He should be in eighth grade, but I just can’t see him functioning and being happy about it,” said his mom, Tracey Carpenter.
During the week, Carpenter and his mom live about a block from campus. On Friday afternoons, the two drive to Lynnwood to spend the weekend with his father, younger brother and his eighth- and ninth-grade friends.
Carpenter credits his mom with keeping him grounded and making sure he has a social life with kids his own age. On the weekends, he plays Little League baseball, has friends sleep over and has even worked as a referee at Boys and Girls Club basketball games.
“I’ve worked really hard to make sure that he has a childhood,” Tracey Carpenter said. “It’s just as important as challenging him intellectually.”
At PLU, Carpenter quickly discovered the rigor of college coursework, often studying until midnight because of the vast amount of information covered. He maintains an active social life on campus as well, including being ASPLU’s off-campus senator, writing for The Mast, participating in intramural football and playing Xbox with friends in Tinglestad Hall.
Kakar said Carpenter is almost a different person, both physically and emotionally, after one year at PLU.
“He’s growing up real fast,” Kakar said. “I think he’ll be successful.”