Student Graduates In Two Years, Making NJIT History

Aditya Uppuluri is the first to finish a bachelor's degree at NJIT in just two years of study.

When he gets his diploma on May 17, Aditya Uppuluri will make NJIT history: as far as records show, he's the first student ever to complete a bachelor’s degree in just two years. 

Uppuluri is a biology major in the accelerated medical program, where students commonly finish in three years, then spend four years in medical school. But he shaved a year off an already accelerated pace. That's unheard of. So in the fall, he’ll enter the New Jersey Medical School two years early, saving him money -- two years of tuition -- and time. And if things go according to plan -- and he’s never been one to veer off plan -- he’ll finish medical school in 2020 at age 24.

How did he do it?

For starters, he had a good start. He graduated from Metuchen High School as his class valedictorian with the highest GPA (4.51) in the school’s 110-year history. He also was named a National Merit Scholar, one of 2,500 students out of 1.5 million to win the award. He was, moreover, an AP National Scholar, meaning he took more than eight AP exams and scored a 4 or 5 on each of them. He also took two college classes for credit in high school.

Consequently, he entered the Albert Dorman Honors College as a freshman with 56 credits --  four semesters worth. In his two years at NJIT he also carried extra credits -- 17 to 19 -- every semester while also taking summer classes. During the summer session of 2015, for instance, he earned 16 credits.

At 19, Uppuluri may also be the second youngest student ever to graduate from NJIT. Karisa Solt Shreck, a homeschooled prodigy, entered the Honors College at 15 and graduated three years later at 18. She majored in biomedical engineering and accelerated her studies on her own. After she graduated in 2003, she won a full scholarship to Johns Hopkins Medical School, where she is now chief resident of neurology.

Like many NJIT students, Uppuluri is the first in his family to attend college in America: His parents were born in India. That may explain his ambition and drive and also his deep-seated humility. Though extremely accomplished, he is soft-spoken and humble, quick to give credit to others. He credits Professor Bharat Biswal, for instance, for teaching him to do research. He worked in Biswal’s Brain Connectivity Lab, where researchers use functional MRI brain scans to study autism.

“It was an absolute honor to do research under the guidance of Professor Biswal, an esteemed researcher and one of the founding fathers of the fMRI,” said Uppuluri. “Working with such a prominent professor fortified my resolve to pursue a career as a physician and researcher.”

In turn, Biswal had this to say about his understudy:

“Aditya is a very polite, humble and hardworking student,” he said. “He has strong quantitative skills and is obviously a quick learner. I am confident that with his determination and hard work he will succeed in his future career as a physician researcher, one who will do much good in the world.”

Uppuluri credits his professors with instilling in him a sense of social responsibility. They challenged him to question established medical practice and to strive to humanize the profession, he said. They told him that a good doctor treats a patient like family, not like a cog in an uncaring bureaucracy.

“The professors at NJIT are the best thing about the university,” said Uppuluri. “My bio professors told me that my generation must question established medical ideas and usher in new models of care."

And the main reason he graduated early, he said, was so he could use the two years time to serve others. While in med school, he’ll now have the option of taking a year or two off to do research. Or he might also apply for a Fulbright scholarship and do research in a third-world country. Or he could take the time to get a master’s degree in public health; that would help him work for a humanitarian group such as Doctors Without Borders. Or he's even considering earning a Ph.D. so that he could teach medicine and help fashion the minds and social consciences of future medical students.

“I came to the Honors College because of its deep commitment to community service,” he said, “and I’m leaving with an ever deeper commitment to work as a physician who will help people most in need of help.”

Asked to explain how he was able to achieve so much so young, Uppuluri deflected attention away from himself -- and onto his college. 

“The Albert Dorman Honors College distinguished itself from all other accelerated medical programs through the quality of guidance and the degree of freedom it gave me,” he said. “The degree of freedom and flexibility enabled me to tailor my education to my interests and to my own pace.”

“During my tenure here,” he continued, “I’ve had the privilege of learning alongside students who exemplify leadership, scholarship and service. These students have engendered in me a greater sense of professionalism, cultural awareness and ambition. As my time here draws to a close, I enthusiastically and optimistically move forward knowing that the Honors College has laid the foundation for me to have a successful future, personally and professionally.”

By Robert Florida (robert.florida@njit.edu)