He's a Homeschooled Prodigy with Two Majors

Michael Anderson pictured receiving his Outstanding Senior award from NCE Dean Sunil Saigal.

Some of NJIT’s brightest students were homeschooled.

Consider, for example, Michael Anderson, a senior at NJIT who all throughout elementary and high school was homeschooled. Back then, he was lucky to have had two capable and passionate teachers: his parents.  His father has a master’s degree in physics and his mother has a bachelor’s in biology. They both love science and education and they gave him the freedom and flexibility to learn by doing – by working on hands-on projects.

Michael happily recalls his school days at home. He would lose himself in elaborate yet fascinating science projects such as building a radio-controlled airplane. The projects were fun and educational.  His plane, for instance, won him third place in a regional Intel Science Fair.

“Being homeschooled was great because I could spend months on hands-on projects,” says Michael.  “And it prepared me well for the rigors of NJIT.”

At NJIT, he has two rigorous majors: mechanical engineering and computer engineering.  Whereas most students work hard to excel in one engineering major, he’s excelling in two: His grade point average is a near perfect 3.98. And whereas most students graduate with about 128 credits, he’ll graduate in five years with 200 credits.  He takes a full credit-load every semester and some summer courses.  Because of all his hard work, the Newark College of Engineering recently named him the Outstanding Senior in Mechanical Engineering. He’s due to graduate in 2013. 

Michael is a scholar in the Albert Dorman Honors College -- a college which for him is a family affair. Two of his younger brothers also attend the Honors College: Matthew, a senior, studies physics, and Thomas, a sophomore, majors in math. And his younger brother, David, will enter the Honors College in the fall as a freshman.  He intends to major in math.  All were homeschooled.  In this interview, Michael talks about his early schooling, his two majors and how he’s combining them in a way that will allow him to carve out a different career path.  

Why do you have a double major?

I liked both mechanical engineering and computer engineering   At first, I thought I’d study both for a year or so and then pick one. But I liked them equally so I double majored.

Is it doubly hard to have two majors?

It is labor intensive but it also makes some classes easier. Sometimes you learn from one class what you learn in another.  I take maximum credit loads as well as summer classes. Instead of 128 credits, I need about 200.  So I’ll graduate in five years, in 2013.

Will the double major help you find a good job?

Yes, the merging of electric and mechanical systems is a growing field right now, so there should be a lot of job opportunities for me.  I could work on hybrid vehicles or work in the field of robotics or for the aerospace industry.

Your main interest is in mechatronics.  Can you explain that?

Mechatronics is the electronic control of mechanical systems.  The most widely known application is robotics, but it’s used in making hybrid cars and in wire systems in planes – the connection between the pilot and the plane, it’s all software controlled electronics. 

You interned at General Electric’s Aviation Systems in Whippany. How did you get that job and what was it like? 

I got the internship at the NJIT Career Fair. GE was there and a recruiter told me to apply online for the internship. I applied and they called me for an interview and they hired me for the summer of 2011.  They build electro-mechanical actuation systems for commercial and military planes.  I was in the manufacturing department, so I saw how the systems were made.

And this summer you have an internship with Gulfstream Aerospace in Savannah, Georgia.

I’ll be working in the stress analysis division, essentially working on aircraft structures.  I’ll develop specific algorithms that evaluate the stress on the aircraft.  I’m pretty excited about it.

You were homeschooled through high school. Was that fun?

It was because I was able to work on projects.  In high school, my dad taught me physics and calculus, but earlier my mother taught me most subjects.  My parents are religious and passionate about learning, so that made it fun, yes. 

What have been the highlights of NJIT so far for you?

I loved competing in the aero design project, sponsored by the Society of Automotive Engineers at NJIT, a group I’m the president of. I was part of a team of three mechanical engineers who built a drone aero plane. We competed against teams from other top colleges. Working on the plane allowed us to apply what we learned in our classes -- control systems, electro engineering, and mechanical engineering -- to the plane.  We placed in a few contest categories and had a great time on the road trip to Texas, where the contest was based.  Another highlight of NJIT is the students: They are hardworking and down to earth and very helpful to each other.

(By Robert Florida)