Teen enrolls in Berkeley’s doctoral program

(U-WIRE) BERKELEY, Calif. – Having just received his master’s degree in chemistry, 14-year-old Michael Kearney wants to bring his intelligence to the University of California-Berkeley to pursue a doctorate in biochemistry.

Kearney, who graduated last month from Middle Tennessee State University with an A-minus grade point average, is on the road to being called “doctor” before he becomes an adult.

And he said he will apply to the University of California-Berkeley, where he said he was accepted at age eight, to accomplish that goal.

“It’s pretty likely that I’ll go there,” he said.

As a graduate student, Kearney conducted research on an enzyme that may fight cancer in the future.

“Unlike chemotherapy, which kills healthy and cancerous cells, (the enzyme) will search for only the cancerous cells,” he said.

At an early age, Kearney left grammar school and enrolled at Santa Rosa Junior College, where he received an associate’s degree in geology. At age 10, he graduated from the University of South Alabama with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology.

Kearney entered Middle Tennessee State University with an intended major in mass communications. The course of study failed to adequately challenge him, however, and he switched to chemistry, which he found more interesting.

“I didn’t really have a fun experience,” Kearney said of the mass communications program.

David Drubin, a U.C. Berkeley molecular and cell biology professor who heads the Graduate Admission Affairs Department, said that if admitted, Kearney would be the youngest graduate student the university has ever enrolled.

But not all professors have been accepting of Kearney at his young age. He received his first B at Santa Rosa Junior College from an English professor who said she could not believe Kearney was capable of understanding adult romance in literature.

“I got A’s on the test, the final and the paper, and basically everything else, but she said, `Well, you can’t conceptually understand it,’ ” Kearney said in a falsetto tone.

Likewise, several universities have expressed doubt about Kearney’s abilities because of his age.

“We received letters saying, `get a social life,’ and that he needs more potential,” said Cassidy Kearney, Michael’s mother. “Michael’s had to deal with a lot of disappointment because of his age.

“California is more outward thinking about Michael’s age,” Cassidy said. “The research professor at Vanderbilt University already flat-out said he didn’t want to work with a 14-year-old.”

Michael currently is preparing to retake the Graduate Records Examination. He said he hopes to score at least a 2,000.

Although some professors and university admissions officials doubted Michael in the past, his peers accepted him, he said.

“Most treated me like a little mascot or a little brother,” he said. “I helped them with their homework and they helped me with mine.”

But when it comes to friends, Michael prefers to hang out with people his own age.

“You can’t talk to a college person about the X-Men and stuff,” he said.

-Susan Surapruik

Daily Californian

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