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Lathrop’s Karan Singh graduating Cal Poly with electrical engineering degree at age 18
Karan Singh
Karan Singh

SAN LUIS OBISPO —  Karan Singh is unique among his classmates.

At Lathrop High School, most seniors are readying for diplomas and thinking about college in the fall. Singh, 18, knows the feeling — but he finished at Lathrop three years ago.

Now, he’s excited about receiving his bachelor’s degree, magna cum laude, in electrical engineering (he concluded his studies at Cal Poly in March) and starting graduate school.

Singh is Cal Poly’s youngest grad ever— eclipsing the previous youngest Mustang, Priscilla Butler, an English major who graduated at age 18 in 1988.

Singh is now a postbaccalaureate researcher at Stanford University studying the use of ultrasound to treat Alzheimer’s disease and epilepsy, and plans to start his doctorate in electrical engineering at the Palo Alto campus next fall.

His ultimate goal, he said, is “working as an innovator in the biomedical field — likely in an entrepreneurial venture.”

Singh’s path to Cal Poly wasn’t typical nor was his college experience.

The final two years of school for Cal Poly’s Class of 2022 included course quizzes and exams along with an acquaintance named COVID that required testing of a different kind.

These were interesting times and posed unique challenges for the nearly 5,500 eligible to take part in this weekend’s six commencement ceremonies, June 11-12. The graduation candidates were attracted to the university for its Learn by Doing philosophy. They leave Cal Poly fortified by that ethos, ready to start careers or move on to advanced studies.

When Singh toured Cal Poly while in high school, he found “a welcoming and professional environment” that aligned with his interests — a passion for innovation and, later, the life-altering potential of biomedical engineering.

Plus, there was one important criterium: The electrical engineering curriculum “appeared very relevant to the current state of my field and was structured in a way that allowed me to go at my own pace,” he said.

His route to Cal Poly at age 15 was aided years before his September 2019 arrival by marching to that educational pace, skipping a grade in elementary school, and racing through high school in two years.

“Coming to Cal Poly significantly broadened my horizons and augmented my knowledge in many more ways than just academically,” he said. “The opportunities I’ve received here — and the ones I haven’t — have pushed me to keep moving forward towards my broader goals.

“Learn by Doing pointed me toward practical design and trying to make an impact in the present,” he added. “No amount of knowledge has worth if it isn’t used to contribute to the world. Cal Poly’s coursework gave me both the theory and practical experience I needed to excel in my ventures and produce functional tools quickly.”

Like other students, studying amid COVID was a challenge — especially for one on a two-and-a-half-year plan — but not without rewards.

“I completed more of my degree virtually than in-person,” he said. “While the alternate format promoted my early graduation and allowed me to manage my time more easily, it was a challenge adapting to the lack of significant interaction with my peers and instructors.

“I solved this problem for my cohort by creating a host of online Discord servers for coursework and general conversation,” he said of the group-chatting platform originally built for gamers that has evolved into a general-use platform for various types of communities. “They are now populated by over 1,000 collective members and most of the students in my department.”

Along the way, he had help. He cited his work with his advisor, Professor Ben Hawkins, as very rewarding.

“The friendships I’ve gained here have made my time thoroughly enjoyable,” he said. “Of course, I am also very grateful for my parents who greatly facilitated my earlier transition to college.”

With the latest stage of his education completed, he can look back at his time at Cal Poly with pride.

“Besides being the youngest graduate in Cal Poly’s history, I am proud of the research I am contributing to with the skills I’ve gained at Cal Poly,” he said. “My lab at Stanford works on ultrasound-based, non-invasive treatments for ailments such as epilepsy and essential tremors.

“I will most remember the long days and nights I spent at Cal Poly collaborating with my friends and classmates. Perhaps even more important than the education you gain in college are the connections and relationships you make. Though my time there was short, the impact of Cal Poly and the wonderful people I’ve had the pleasure of working with will stay with me for a lifetime.”